Let’s help Smokey Bear prevent forest fires

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Well, I must learn something in the backyard. I spend a good part of most days sitting in the backyard. This is what old coots do, take pleasure in subtle things. And in fact, I do learn a lot.

One of the latest backyard lessons happened earlier this week. It had been three days since the most recent fire in the fire ring. All that remained from that fire was dust, or so I thought. A stiff breeze brought a presumably dead fire back to life. In the morning while I read the newspaper there were wisps of smoke coming out of the ashes. By lunchtime, it was steady smoke. Soon after lunch flames were rising from the ashes.

It had to be fueled by something, so I ran the poker through the ashes and revealed something wood about the size of a baseball.

This was an excellent example of how a fire can smolder without a sign, then flame up at a later time. Three days is a long time to smolder then flame up, something I never even thought possible. It made me rethink the importance of extinguishing an outdoors fire. You can be sure that the fire Jeri and I built to cook sausages a couple of days later was thoroughly drenched.

Another lesson was a reminder that it is impossible to drench a fire without something to carry water. Fortunately, a plastic oil measuring container used to measure oil for the outboard motors was in the toolbox. Already I have added a water carrier to the took box.

Fire smoldering underground can lead to disaster. If a small piece of wood in my backyard fire ring can smolder for three days before flaming, a dead root might smolder much longer.

No one thing is most important in preventing forest fires. The plain fact, everything must be done correctly when fire prevention is concerned, and no precaution is too great. Start by paying strict attention to forest fire advisories from the Allegheny National Forest, the Bureau of Forestry, and for that matter anyone else.

Try to find a place where there is no fuel to spread a fire. Fuel, anything that will burn, can spread a fire in short order. This is the idea behind a fire ring. Usually made of rocks, it serves as a border between fire and no fire. The fire will burn all fuel inside the ring but by plan nothing outside the ring. This works quite well, but it is no sure thing.

Be absolutely certain that there is water close by for drowning the fire.

Think before choosing a place to build a fire. Never build a fire on thick detritus. That is dead vegetation on the forest floor, and that is fire fuel that might smolder.

Do not use large pieces of wood to build a fire. It takes too long for them to burn. Use just enough wood to cook your meal or do whatever you are doing with a fire. A fire for heat should not be necessary when the temperature is at least 60 degrees. That is, unless someone gets wet, or for some other emergency.

My preferred situation for building a lunch fire is on a rocky or sandy stream bed. Streams are generally at their lowest flow during summer. This leaves flat sections of stream bed exposed. A fire here is not likely to spread. Another good situation is a rocky section of an abandoned forest road. These are very common in our area. Some medium-size boulders make good places to build small fires.

Sometimes open fires are too dangerous, usually when rain has been absent for too long. Add a lot of dead leaves and other dead vegetation and you have a volatile situation. This is when portable stoves should be used. This may not be helpful when you are walking in the forest, but when your vehicle is nearby it makes fires very easy with nothing to do to extinguish a fire than closing a valve.

The biggest problem with portable propane and butane stoves are that when the fuel is used you are left with a container that will be in a landfill for a very long time, assuming the user took the container home for proper disposal. This adds considerably to the number of trash humans produce.

I believe very strongly that the only solution for this problem is mandatory reusable containers and a substantial deposit for the containers. A $5 deposit would not be out of line. It would only cost a user $5 for a lifetime if containers are returned for the deposit. People would be very likely to return containers for that amount. Much less and no.

Be safe.