Camping Fire Safety Tips For a Very Dry Year

With the dry season upon us, it's important for campers, hunters, and anyone celebrating July 4th to consider fire safety. With so many potential fire triggers and heat sources (like camping stoves and portable generators) commonly used outdoors, the risks of starting a fire can't be ignored by anyone enjoying the outdoors.

US Wildfire Danger for 2014

The fact is, more than 62,000 fires are started by humans each year (on average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center). A good portion of these are wildfires, and wildfires cost money. Federal wildfire suppression costs in 2013 soared past $1.7 billion dollars, and the National Park Service reports that 90% of the wildfires that led to federal spending were caused by humans.

To sum up, wildfires are a big problem, and they're almost always caused by humans. These fires threaten property and lives, and they are largely preventable if the proper precautions are taken.

So, with all of that said, here are some fire safety tips outdoor enthusiasts should keep in mind:

The Humble Campfire Isn't So Humble

Campfires are the leading cause (or most likely the leading cause, depending on what stats you look at) of wildfires in the USA. The tragedy is that most of these fires are preventable, as it's possible to camp without starting a fire. Instead of lighting a campfire, use a small portable grill (more info below) for cooking and a portable power pack (like the ArkPak) to keep your campsite lit. With an ArkPak, a 100ah battery, and some LED camp lights, you should be able keep your campsite lit for days.

However, if the idea of camping without starting a campfire doesn't appeal to you, there are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Campfires are illegal in many areas of the Western USA during fire season, so make sure fires are allowed.
  2. Remember, fires spread quickly. You can't expect to stop a fire from spreading, especially in dry conditions. Therefore, you must keep he fire contained.
  3. By starting a small fire in a rock-lined pit, positioning the fire far away from any debris or foliage that could spontaneously ignite, and keeping water on hand to douse the fire, you can avoid a lot of danger.
  4. Before you leave a campsite, dowse your fire pit extensively with water. You literally want to drown the fire pit, as old embers have been known to start wildfires.

Still, if you live in an area where the fire danger is high, your best bet is to skip the campfire altogether. Even if you take every precaution, a strong gust of wind is all it could take to start a forest fire.

Mind Your Grill

Using a portable grill is always a good idea when camping, as they're safer than a simple campfire. However, they can still pose a fire risk so it's a good idea to exercise the following precautions:

  1. Before setting up your grill, be sure to clear an area a few feet in diameter around the grill. That way any hot embers that "hop" out of your grill don't land on anything that can catch fire.
  2. Keep a bucket of water near your grill, specifically for dousing any coals or embers that land on the ground.
  3. Once you're done, soak any remaining coals or ashes in water. It's better to use too much water than not enough, so don't hold back.
Portable Gas Grill
A small portable gas grill like this Cuisinart Griddl'n Grill is easy to use, more contained than most campfires, and affordable.

Cigarettes Cause Wildfires Too

The numbers of fires unintentionally started by cigarettes are so high, no one knows exactly how many fires are caused solely by cigarettes. Smokers often don't consider one little cigarette butt to be completely, but these discards can start a fire in no time flat.

Whether you're camping or just cruising along in your car, dispose of your cigarettes and cigars in a responsible way (and make sure they're completely out).

Beware Portable Generators

While portable generators aren't nearly as likely to cause a wildfire as a cigarette or a campfire, they do carry some risk.

First, generators put out a fair amount of heat, so it's a good idea to make sure that there's nothing near the generator that can potentially catch fire. The generator's exhaust gases could conceivably ignite dried leaves, brush, etc.

Second, portable generators need diesel or gasoline, which means you have a gas-can on your campsite. Be sure to keep the gas-can as far away from heat or open flames, as they can be highly explosive if stored incorrectly.

Propane Heaters

The main threat with propane heaters is the amount of heat that they create. Just like generators and portable grills, be mindful of where you place your propane heater.

Propane heater

Small propane heaters (like this one from Mr. Heater) can be a great tool for keeping warm. Just make sure to clear debris around the unit, and to use them in a well-ventilated space (it's unsafe to use them inside a tent or cabin).

Also some older models have an open heating element that can easily ignite a fire, so it's good to upgrade if you live in an area with a high fire danger.

Use Spark Arrestors on Equipment

Most portable generators include spark arrestors, but it's a good idea to refer to your generator's manual before using it in the woods just to be sure.

Spark arrestors should also be mounted on dirt bikes, ATVs or any other gasoline or diesel powered piece of equipment, especially in fire danger areas. In fact, some states require spark arrestors and will ticket anyone who doesn't have an arrestor on their bike or ATV.

Additional General Tips

Finally, some good tips for anyone camping:

  • Be aware of the fire danger around your camping area. In some regions of the USA, conditions are extraordinarily dry. It's important to know about fire evacuation routes and basic fire survival tips before camping in these areas.
  • If water isn't readily available near your campsite, a fire extinguisher is all but mandatory camping equipment.
  • Don't drink to excess when fires are lit - do the safe thing and put out any flames before you become inebriated.

Last but not least, fire safety requirements can differ from region-to-region. For example, in Colorado and California where wildfire risks are extreme, fire safety requirements are strict. On the other hand, in the mountains of South Georgia, fire risks are much lower. Therefore, some of the tips we've mentioned may or may not be applicable in your area.

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