Author Topic: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments  (Read 4833 times)

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Offline diogenes

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Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« on: March 27, 2016, 03:39:42 PM »
Some of you may be aware that I moved to Colorado recently.  My preferred method for cooking is over fire or using a twig stove. I know there will be certain times of the year when it's just best to just use a propane stove and avoid an open fire all together, but I'd like to continue using fire a good portion of the time. People here are really freaked out about fires, and I understand it, considering the Waldo Canyon fire they had 4 years ago. I guess I'm looking for input from those who live in similarly dry areas and what they do to reduce risk of fire getting out of control.

Basically, the way I normally do fire is to dig a pit, keep the fire small and bury it afterwards. Here I'll probably douse it, too, for good measure. Not sure what more I could do really. Any thoughts?
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Offline Quenchcrack

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2016, 03:47:16 PM »
I think it would be prudent to follow Forest Service regulations regarding when and where you can have an open fire.
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Offline wolfy

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2016, 04:08:57 PM »
I've had too many experiences with uncontrollable wildfires to even think about building an open fire when drought, wind and low humidity conditions unite to create 'tinderbox' situations.  I recall the summer and fall of 2012, here in Nebraska, when it was like that......fires got out of control at the drop of a hat.  Even driving pickup trucks with catalytic converters through grass pastures was considered foolhardy.  We did zero Dutch oven parties that year......outside of one at the state park when we cooked inside a shelter house utilizing the big stone fireplace.  Even THEN, we used charcoal briquettes for fear of sparks exiting the chimney!

Wildfires scare the crap out of me......it's not worth the chance of starting one! :-\

EDIT: I just switched on the evening news and there is presently a 600 square mile wildfire taking place in Kansas & Oklahoma right now!!
« Last Edit: March 27, 2016, 04:15:01 PM by wolfy »
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Offline Aven

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2016, 04:40:48 PM »
Please find an alcohol stove you like or some other form of bottled fuel. 

I worked for the Forest Service during the summers, '99 - '02.   Wildfires scare the ever loving crap out of me.  There is nothing like hearing the chatter over the radio about a lightening strike on the other side of the ridge the started a fire to get your heart racing, especially when you are two miles from the truck.
Seriously people, stop expecting normal from me.... We all know it's never gonna happen.

Offline wsdstan

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2016, 08:35:30 PM »
Echoing what has been said when it is dry and windy there are no open fires allowed in many places.  I have, for almost fifty years, used a small white gas Optimus stove to cook when that is the case.  It is a good thing to cook on, either with a pot for soup or a fry pan for bacon and meat of some kind (Spam for instance) and it runs a long time on a small amount of fuel.  It has been used at 14,000 feet and where I now live which is about 3000 feet and never fails as long as you keep the fuel jets clean with a small cleaning needle.
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Offline diogenes

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2016, 11:44:55 PM »
Thanks for the replies, everyone.

So... it sounds like pretty much everyone's advising me to avoid using fire altogether? Even during the less dry months? Hmm... I've been spoiled by the Ozarks, I think. I find it a little hard to believe that, even if one is careful about when, where and how one uses fire, everything around them will suddenly combust here. But I'll take your advice. :shrug:

I've been using a canister stove. It works okay.
 
And, I think a lot places have banned alcohol stoves, since the flame is invisible during the day and they can spill easily. I read about some big fires started by people using them, too.
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Offline pete28

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2016, 03:16:21 AM »
The safer you can be the better. I work for the Florida Park Service and often work hand in hand with Florida Forest Service and sometimes with US Forest service. This years wildfire season has just begun. We have had several wildfires so for this fire season thankfully none of them have been really bad. One big problem we have had this year is clear cutting operations. The price of pulp wood skyrocketed so landowners with planted pine have completely cleared out their fields to sell. The problem is they won't replant until fall or later. So now we are left with empty fields full of dog fennel and palmetto's. Long story short if you can use the alcohol stove definitely do and just be cautious about how you use your fire and what you put into it.
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Offline Quenchcrack

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2016, 05:24:36 AM »
A Trangia 27 or 25 system is the benchmark for quality and reliability in alcohol stoves.  Lots of them on eBay.  However, at very low temperatures or high altitude, alcohol does not vaporise well and the stove does not perform well. An MSR or Primus canister stove works better in these extremes.
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Offline BigHat

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2016, 06:01:02 AM »
i'll go against the status quo on this one, wish a disclaimer:

THE FOLLOWING IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, THE AUTHOR (ME) IS NOT GIVING ADVICE, AND DEFINITELY DOES NOT RECOMMEND ILLEGAL ACTIVITY. NOW, ONTO THE MEAT OF THE DISCUSSION...

I grew up in the high desert, under constant drought conditions. Additionally, I come from a logging family, and my brother-in-law is a USFS firefighter, with whom I've discussed this at length. I don't mean this to brag or to set myself up as an expert, but I do consider myself experienced enough to discuss fire in a drought condition.

Here's my take on the matter. Have a fire, be safe, don't break the law.


Things to help with fire safety:

1. Clear a LARGE AREA around the fire pit area.
2. Dig a good depression where you're fire will be, that means less rocks needed for same amount of protection.
3. Put a rock barrier around the depression. I recommend a keyhole fire for campsites, they're very useful.
4. Keep your fire smaller.
5. Use woods that don't crackle as much. Avoid firs, pines, and other softwoods that may crackle and pop as they burn.
6. Have lots of water handy.
7. Watch the fire as it's burning, pay attention for sparks and be ready to wet/stomp them out PROMPTLY.
8. When you're done with your fire... drown, stir, drown, stir, drown, stir, and then cover.


Lastly, FOLLOW THE LOCAL RULES REGARDING FIRE BANS. They're there for a reason. If you break the rules, you run the chance of starting a fire and/or getting a HEFTY fine. so don't break the rules. If you were to want to break the rules (or in a survival situation and needed fire), you may choose a very closely monitored Dakota Fire Hole.
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Offline hunter63

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2016, 11:02:52 AM »
Been carrying around a butane stove and Charcoal Brazier.....as even in Primitive Rondy Camp....fire bans are a fact of life.
We just adapt and go with it.
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #10 on: March 28, 2016, 11:46:48 AM »
Thanks for the replies, everyone.

So... it sounds like pretty much everyone's advising me to avoid using fire altogether? 

Not in my case.  Only when conditions warrant the use of a stove and not having a campfire.  I  build campfires as often as I can but not in all the areas we might find ourselves. 
A man who carries a cat by the tail learns  something he can learn in no other way. 
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Offline wolfy

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #11 on: March 28, 2016, 12:42:13 PM »
I enjoy camping/cooking with open campfires, myself.....just like the rest of you, BUT I have seen how quickly they can become uncontrollable monsters. :spider:    You would not believe how, when a fire spreads out of control, just how quickly it can occur! :shocked:    Panic sets in immediately and no amount of stomping about and running in circles will help.  The small bucket of water that you have reserved for dousing a spreading fire is never large enough to be effective when your surroundings are a tinderbox to begin with. 

As I said in post #2, high temperature, low humidity and high wind conditions make it neccesary for Smoky Bear to move the pointer on that dial that we've all seen to the EXTREME FIRE DANGER portion of that familiar warning sign.  I sometimes question that seemingly over cautious Bear myself, but it's better to be safe than sorry.  Wildfires cost millions in property damage and decades to repair lost recreational value......better to just take a small stove along and wait for rain to improve conditions. :shrug:

As an old farmer I'm used to waiting for rain to come, but it always does......eventuall y. :lol:
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Offline Carson

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #12 on: March 28, 2016, 01:08:06 PM »

And, I think a lot places have banned alcohol stoves, since the flame is invisible during the day and they can spill easily. I read about some big fires started by people using them, too.

Correct, it was a tipped alcohol stove that started that humongous Colorado fire a few years ago. They are indeed banned when there is is a first stage fire ban. Only stoves with an on/off knob are allowed then. I normally use an alcohol stove but when there is a fire ban I use my Snowpeak Giga or my MSR Dragonfly.

For campfires when they are not banned I just use common sense. If it is very dry I won't do it anyway, breezy makes it more a risk. But I won't even set a canister stove on a bunch of dry pine needles. I look for a  safe place without having to tear up a huge area just to do that.

If you bury a fire like alluded to, if there is any organic matter it may keep burning underground and come up and possibly ignite. I have seen that decades ago when the fire burned underground and came up several inches beyond the fire ring.  Wet it down til it is dead out, stir and and wet it down again to be safe. They are charging folks big for forest fires now.
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Offline wolfy

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #13 on: March 28, 2016, 01:33:15 PM »
.......as they SHOULD! :pissed:
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #14 on: March 28, 2016, 03:44:47 PM »
Yes they should but nearly always it is sent to someone who couldn't pay it in their lifetime.   :-\
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Offline diogenes

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #15 on: March 28, 2016, 07:12:47 PM »
Thanks again for all the replies. I really struck a nerve here, didn't I?

There are two things I should've said or said differently in my initial post:

1. This is more about "cookfires" than full on campfires, something I at least make a distinction between.  The title should've reflected that.

And,
2. I have every intention of following the rules regarding fire bans, etc. I hope it didn't come off as, "I'm doing it anyway."  The reason I posed the question is that I want to do the right thing, or rather, don't do the wrong thing. I have both twig and canister stove in my pack and to be safe I've used the canister stove 9 times out 10. I'm just getting used to this kind of environment. We took measures in MO, but this is a whole new game. That's why I asked at all.

All replies are appreciated. Those with specific details like the ones from BigHat, wsdstan, and Carson are what I came looking for.  But those emphasizing just how serious it is are greatly appreciated, too. Like I said, I'm just seeking the point of view of those with more experience in dry environments.  Hope that clears up any confusion about my intentions.
"Go away," Chuang Tzu said. "I'm dragging my tail in the mud."

Offline wolfy

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #16 on: March 28, 2016, 07:28:41 PM »
I knew you wouldn't "do it anyway"......you're not that kind of guy. O:-)    Try a 'dakotah fire hole' for cooking in windy, dry country.....they work real well if soil conditions permit. :thumbsup:
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Offline Orbean

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #17 on: March 28, 2016, 07:36:56 PM »
I have gotten used to not having a fire, it just goes with camping in many parts of the west. Bonfires, good fireworks, and American made TVs are now just fond memories of my youth.
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Offline Carson

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #18 on: March 28, 2016, 07:45:52 PM »
I thought your post was just fine and respectful diogenes and didn't see any attitude or problem with what you are asking or how you asked it.
Nor had I erred in my calculations, nor had I endured in vain. I at length felt that I was free. -Edgar Allen Poe

Offline abo4ster

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #19 on: April 07, 2016, 11:01:55 AM »
Three things drive a fire's behavior: Weather, Fuel and Topography. Weather is hugely important in terms of predicting a fire's behavior in advance of lighting and how it will act over time. As a direct result of concerns like yours, I wrote an article about Your Campfire and The Weather. I believe you will find it very beneficial to your question.

Offline Yeoman

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #20 on: April 08, 2016, 09:54:03 PM »
I've never really had to worry about this sort of thing here in Nova Scotia. It's generally easy to find a wet spot during dry conditions.
I didn't even really know about underground fires and such until I was living in British Columbia fifteen years ago.
Of the little I've read about the subject though, Mors Kochanski's "Northern Bushcraft" seems to have covered it best.
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Offline diogenes

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Re: Campfires in Dry, Fire-Prone Environments
« Reply #21 on: April 29, 2016, 05:09:09 PM »
Thanks for the responses.

Abo4ster, starting your article right now. Thanks for posting. Looks like a lot of good information in there.
"Go away," Chuang Tzu said. "I'm dragging my tail in the mud."