Nothing can ruin a camping trip quite like a forest fire. That’s why it is so important to make sure that you are ever diligent when it comes to camping and fires. Here are Camp Out Colorado’s Top 10 Camping Tips to prevent forest fires. Everyone needs to be aware of proper care of fires while camping. Some of these camping fire tips might seem like common sense, but it’s a good idea to make sure every camper is aware of these so they too can help prevent forest fires. One errant spark or buried hot coal is all it can take to burn thousands of acres of beautiful Colorado wilderness. With more and more people moving to the mountains in Colorado these wildfires can also threaten the lives of many people as well.
It is important to know that if a camper is identified as someone who started a fire they can be held liable both financially and criminally for starting the forest fire. This can include having to pay the bill for putting out the fire, which can run into the millions of dollars. Even worse, if people are injured or killed, you can be prosecuted in criminal court and serve prison time.
I’m sure that no camper wants to endure the horror and guilt of accidently causing a forest fire while they are camping. So take the extra steps to make sure that you and those camping around you take these steps to ensure that you do not accidently start a forest fire when you are out camping.
Check Local Fire Restrictions
First and foremost make sure that you check the local regulations about having a fire when camping. Most places that have regular camp sites only allow fires in the fire rings and only if the fire danger is acceptable. You can check the Camp Out Colorado Fire Restriction page here to get started.
Skip a Fire When Fire Danger is High
One of the best things you can do to prevent a forest fire when camping is to forego the campfire. I know campfires are part of the camping experience, but when fire danger is high, it might be best just to play it safe; especially if there is wind or other factors that might make building a fire too risky.
Use a Gas Stove instead of a Fire
If you need fire to cook, use a gas stove instead of an open fire. There is nothing that you can cook on a campfire that you can’t cook on a gas stove. During fire bans, my family has roasted hotdogs, heated up our pocket meals, and boiled water on a gas stove. It might seem odd, but it beats starting a forest fire. Besides, trips where things don’t go exactly according to plan tend to become some of the best camping stories we tell.
Build All Fires in a Dedicated Fire Ring
When you do build a camp fire, always build the fire in a dedicated fire ring. Make sure all your wood fits inside and nothing is hanging out. If it is, cut it up so everything fits inside. Also, keep the fire small so it can be controlled should anything happen. A good rule of thumb is to not let the fire get higher than the fire ring is wide.
If you are out backpacking or camping where there are not dedicated fire rings, take the time to build to build a good fire ring in an open area. Make sure to clear vegetation a good distance around the fire ring you build. Dig down to the dirt in a small circle. Line it with rocks or use dirt if you do not have rocks that will work. Then clear away anything that can catch on fire within at least two diameters of the fire ring. So if your fire ring is 15 inches around, make sure to clear at least 30 inches of the fire. Be extra careful with a fire that is not in a dedicated fire ring. Keep it small and under control.
Watch Your Fire
I have had embers from a neighbor’s fire blow into my camp, and they had no idea it was happening. There should be at least one adult watching your campfire at all times. Never leave the fire alone for even a second because disaster can strike quickly. Whoever is watching the fire needs to be aware of any embers or sparks that pop hot coals out of the fire and make sure they are all extinguished immediately, no matter how small.
Put the Fire Dead Out
You probably see these signs all over when you are camping. It might sound like a strange term but this is so important. To put a camp fire dead out means that the fire is completely out and cold. A fire is not out if there are any flames, embers, smoke, or heat. I have seen way too many campers leave their camp fires when the flames die down or disappear completely. This fire is not dead. A gust of wind can rekindle the fire and/or blow sparks out, with the potential to start a forest fire. Make sure your fires are dead out.
To make sure your fire is dead out, separate any material that is still actively burning away from each other. Two pieces of fuel burn easier when they are together than when they are apart. Next, give the fires a good stir to break up any of the larger coals and mix them in with the burned out ashes of the fire. Next, douse the area with water (you can also use dirt, but water is more effective). Stir the camp fire again. This helps the water get down to the deeper coals that are hot. Douse the fire with water again and stir. Keep doing this until there are no sparks, hissing, steam, smoke, or signs of any heat. When you are done you should have an ashy soup that was your fire. That fire is now dead out.
Never even start a fire until you have several gallons of water on hand to put out a fire. When I am out camping, I keep a 7 gallon portable water jug near the fire. Its sole purpose it for putting the fire out. Quite often I will use all 7 gallons of water on the fire at the end of the night. Dedicated fire rings are particularly nice because they help to hold the water in so you can drown the fire out. Even after using so much water, I have never had a problem getting a fire going in the same place in the morning, so don’t worry about using “too much”. I’m not sure if you can.
Never Toss Cigarettes, Cigars, or Anything Else
This should go without saying but by the amount of cigarettes I find when I am camping I feel it needs to be reiterated. Do not toss your cigarettes, cigars, or anything else that is smoldering or burning. Beside the fact that it is littering and disgusting, it is also a very easy way to start a forest fire. So please, always, every time, put out your smoking paraphernalia and then discard whatever is left in the trash.
Park Car in Clear Area
Heat and sparks from cars has been known to trigger forest fires. This particular problem is becoming rarer due to cars having more advanced emission systems which now catch sparks. However, it is still good practice to make sure you are parking in a dedicated spot. If one is not available, try to park on bare dirt or rocks. If you have to park in high, thick, dried out vegetation, make sure to stay around your car for at least 15 minutes to make sure nothing happens. This gives the car time to cool down and the sparks enough time to start burning so you can quickly and easily put them out.
Carry a Fire Extinguisher in your Camping Gear
You may be surprised how few campers actually have a fire extinguisher or two when they are camping. However, they can come in quite handy and not just to stop a forest fire. These are the best for putting out a grease fire on your camping stove. It is one of those pieces of equipment you hope you never have to use but if you have one when you need one, a fire extinguisher can make all the difference. Make sure you take an ABC fire extinguisher that can handle any type of fire.
Keep an Eye on Neighbors
The last thing I would like to mention is to always keep an eye on your neighbor’s fires. You shouldn’t be stalking them the whole time, but we can help each other out. If you see that a neighboring camper did not put the fire out when they left camp to go for a hike, to go boating, or whatever, you have two choices. First, just go over and douse their fire. If they return or seem upset I just tell them I saw the fire was unattended and didn’t want any accidents to happen. Usually they apologize, embarrassed for their laziness and there are no hard feelings. From that point on they seem to make sure their fires are out. If you’d rather not take direct action, head over to the camp host and let them know that another camper is leaving fires unattended. Generally then the camp host will go talk to them and make sure they will be more responsible with their fires. It is possible for the camp host to alert a local ranger about the problem. The ranger will talk to them and possibly write them a ticket for leaving an open fire unattended.
Hopefully these few tips and tricks will help you make sure your camp fires go off without a hitch. Forest fires are terrible and deadly things. They have ravaged Colorado brutally the last few years. Hundreds of houses and business have been destroyed. Millions of acres of land and been burnt to the ground. And worst of all people have died. Some of these forest fires might have been preventable if responsible campers just took the minor extra steps to make sure they were safe and careful with the campfires they build. There is no reason that we shouldn’t all be able to enjoy a great campfire in the beautiful Colorado Wilderness. I use the Camping Top Ten List to Prevent Forest Fires when I camp and I hope everyone that reads them will adopt them as well.