PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- With parts of Oregon and Washington in a drought that ranks among the driest 10% of years since 1895, it’s more important than ever for campers to help prevent wildfires this summer.
Last year, outdoor visitation surged during the pandemic, and recreation officials are expecting another busy year. In 2020, 81% of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington) were caused by people. This exceeded the average over the last ten years, during which only 61% of wildfires were human-caused. Many of these wildfires began as escaped campfires.
Escaped campfires can threaten lives, homes, and livelihoods, and are costly and destructive. For Wildfire Awareness Month, the Forest Service and the Keep Oregon Green Association are reminding recreationalists how they can help:
- Check conditions—including weather forecasts and public use restrictions—before heading onto public lands. We recommend Keep Oregon Green’s webpage for the latest on fire restrictions: https://keeporegongreen.org/current-conditions/
- Consider alternatives to a campfire. Pack a portable camp stove as a safer option for outdoor cooking. These are often allowed even when campfires are prohibited. When the sun sets you can still set a “campfire storytelling” vibe by getting creative with a solar-powered lantern or a flashlight.
- Select the right spot. If campfires are allowed, use an existing ring. Fire pits in established campgrounds are the best spots. Avoid placing fires near shrubs or trees, tents, structures, or vehicles. Avoid low-hanging branches overhead and store extra firewood a good distance away.
- Clear the site to bare soil if no ring is available. Remove ground vegetation at least five feet on all sides and encircle your fire with rocks.
- Never use gasoline or other accelerants. Don’t use flammable or combustible liquids, such as gasoline, propane or lighter fluid, to start or increase your campfire.
- Keep it small. Smaller campfires are less likely to escape, and large fires are more likely cast hot embers long distances. Add firewood in small amounts, and only after existing material is consumed.
- Attend your campfire at all times. An unattended campfire can grow into a costly, damaging wildfire within minutes.
- Have water and fire tools on site. Bring a shovel and a bucket of water to extinguish any escaped embers.
- Drown all embers with water when you are ready to leave. Stir the coals, then drown them again. Repeat until the fire is DEAD out.
The basic rule of thumb is: If a fire is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.
State and federal law require the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires at any time of year. While citations and fines may apply, anyone who starts a wildfire may also end up incurring the firefighting costs. This can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Find more wildfire prevention tips at https://www.smokeybear.com/en and www.keeporegongreen.org.
News release from the Oregon Department of Forestry:
SALEM, Oregon – Many of us enjoy a campfire because it evokes memories of past camping trips with family and friends. We sit around the fire and talk, laugh and enjoy the company. The warmth of the moments rivals the heat from the campfire.
Consider ways to build a safe campfire as you start your summer camping preparations. Also, keep in mind that our drier than normal spring weather is a concern for Oregon and the West. Be sure to research conditions for the area near where you’re camping before you head out. Fire restrictions may be in place at the park, county or state level. The Oregon State Parks website will post the latest information about campfires in state parks.
“Regularly reviewing campfire safety practices, even if you’re a seasoned camper, is a good habit,” said Chris Havel, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) associate director. “It’s especially important if you’re camping with children or folks that are learning about responsible outdoor recreation. If you have a question or a concern, talk with a park ranger or camp host.”
OPRD offers the following tips for a safe and enjoyable campfire, and to continue the tradition of great camping memories for everyone.
- Maintain campfire flames at knee height, or roughly two feet high. A smaller flame helps prevent ash and embers from rising into the trees or dry vegetation. If you see the wind stirring up embers, play it safe and put the fire out.
- Only build campfires in the existing fire ring in your campsite. Fire rings are placed in areas with buffer zones and away from vegetation.
- Always keep plenty of water nearby so you can use it to safely put out the campfire. Drown the flames with water and carefully stir the embers to make sure everything is wet. The stirring step is important: ash and wood debris often maintain heat and embers unless they are drowned out.
- Beach campfires should be on open sand and away from driftwood or vegetation. Slowly pour water on your beach fire to put it out. Don’t pour the water too quickly because hot sand can fly up and hit anyone nearby. Also, don’t use sand to put out a beach fire. Covering the fire with sand will insulate the coals, keeping them hot enough to burn someone hours or even days later.
- For propane fire rings, follow the same safety precautions you would with a log-based campfire. The use of propane fire rings may vary statewide, depending on local conditions.
- Make sure everyone in your campsite is familiar with campfire safety, including children. Always keep an eye on your campfire; many accidental fires are started because campers left their fire unattended for “just a minute.”
During May, the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, the Office of Emergency Management, Keep Oregon Green, the U.S. Forest Service, OPRD and other federal, state and local emergency and response agencies are promoting programs and messages encouraging the public to work together in their local communities to prevent the risk of wildfire.