Camping has long been a favorite American pastime, but even the most innocent of hobbies requires a degree of responsibility. The most recent fire to affect the state of Colorado, the Cold Springs Fire, outside of Nederland, most painfully shows a lack of said responsibility, with two campers from Alabama being charged with arson because of negligence in putting out their campfire from the evening before. While the two didn’t intentionally start the blaze, which has now consumed eight structures, a bit of research into the area’s fire restrictions and recommended instructions for campfire maintenance may have gone a long way in preventing the fire, especially as the two were from an area that doesn’t see the same weather conditions that make areas of the southwest so prone to wildfires. The following tips come straight off the National Forest Service’s listed advice from the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington, and offer some suggestions to first time campers, and experienced ones alike, that might be helpful in preventing a similar situation in the future.
The site instructs that if you are planning on having a campfire, follow these guidelines:
- Use an existing fire ring, don’t create a new one. When not in a designated campground, build your fire within a ring of rocks.
- Clear all vegetation away from the fire ring (remove all flammable materials such as needles, leaves, sticks, etc.)
- Select an open level spot away from trees, logs, stumps, overhanging branches, dense dry grass, and forest litter.
- Keep your campfire small.
- Keep plenty of water and a shovel nearby for throwing dirt on the fire if it gets out of control.
- Never leave a campfire unattended! Even a small breeze could quickly cause the fire to spread. Make sure a responsible adult is always in attendance.
When heading to bed for the evening, follow these tips, as listed on the site, to ensure that you’ve properly put out the campfire:
- First, drown the campfire with water!
- Next, mix the ashes and embers with soil. Scrape all partially-burned sticks and logs to make sure all the hot embers are off them.
- Stir the embers after they are covered with water and make sure that everything is wet.
- Feel the coals, embers, and any partially-burned wood with your hands. Everything (including the rock fire ring) should be cool to the touch. Feel under the rocks to make sure no embers underneath.
- When you think you are done, take an extra minute and add more water.
- Finally, check the entire campsite for possible sparks or embers, because it only takes one to start a forest fire.
- Remember…if it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.