Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking.
We are coming from the New England area for a two-month-long camping trip to the West and are concerned about what we read about the dry, highly combustible forest lands we intend to visit. Never having to be too concerned about wildfires, we feel that we are not properly prepared for such dry conditions, and especially when we build a campfire (which we really look forward to). Can you give us some helpful hints on campfire safety? Thanks. —Colleen and Frank
Hi Colleen and Frank,
Last night on the evening news (in the West where I live) the reporter posed the question, “What percentage of wildfires are started by humans?” The answer was 85% – 90%. That is an astounding figure, so you are right to be concerned when camping, especially when boondocking where safe iron fire rings are not provided.
The heat, low humidity, afternoon winds and lack of rainfall can produce summer conditions that can spawn disastrous wildfires that ravage forests and grasslands across the drier parts of the country. If you take that 85% to 90% figure seriously, as you should, then you won’t take any chances of starting such a conflagration with a poorly managed campfire.
If your campsite does not have an approved fire ring, use a spot where a fire has been previously built. If none is available, scrape all combustible material several feet away from the center of your intended fire. And look up – don’t build your fire under low-hanging branches. If rocks are available, build a fire ring around your fire, or if not, dig a shallow hole to contain your fire’s embers.
Keep a bucket of water nearby to put out any errant spark that may escape, and add a folding or compact shovel to your RV tool kit to quickly throw dirt on smoldering coals or to scrape dry tinder away from around your fire pit. Some national forests will require that all campers and boondockers have these items (and sometimes a fire permit, which is free) if you plan to build a campfire outside of an approved fire ring. And keep your fire a manageable size. There is no need to build a blazing inferno. A nice, cozy, small fire is sufficient for most needs.
And remember, never leave your fire unattended. Also, pour water over the coals and feel for hot spots to assure the fire is completely dead when going to bed or leaving the campsite – whether for a hike or when moving on. A sudden wind can quickly rekindle a roaring blaze from even the smallest spark.
Also keep in mind that there are many fire restrictions already in place. Check for them where you’re planning on camping. And here is a handy government website of current wildfires in the U.S.: InciWeb: Incident Information System.
As Smokey Bear says, “Only YOU can prevent wildfires.”
Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .