[pct-l] Fire Responsibility

CHUCK CHELIN steeleye at wildblue.net
Sun May 9 21:30:44 CDT 2010

Good evening, all,

People’s reaction to a fire incident can vary greatly between a calm, but
rapid and effective response, to something totally irrational and
harmful.  Very
often the primordial response is, “Get that fire away from me!”  As a kid I
saw another camper trying to cook breakfast over a far-too-large campfire.  The
bacon grease in his frying pan began to burn vigorously and his instant
response was to sling the pan – fire and all – into the surrounding brush
away from him and his tent.

An adult (?) version of that event occurred many years ago when I worked a
summer for the USFS in the Cascades near Crater Lake.  There was a very high
fire risk and every crew was out maintaining a presence on the roads looking
for smoke, so when a large plume was sighted on Highway-138 just north of
Crater Lake a crew was quickly on the scene believing it to be caused by the
typical tossed cigarette.  As it turned out, the crew found a bed mattress
smoldering and burning on the shoulder where it fortunately had not yet
started a wildland fire.  The miscreant responsible was apprehended on the
highway somewhere down the west slopes of the Cascades.  He was hauling a
bunch of household goods on a trailer when he flipped out a burning
cigarette that landed in the mattress behind.  When he eventually noticed
the increasing smokescreen in his rear-view mirror he pulled over and
responded to his first impulse to, “Get that fire away from my stuff!”, by
unlashing the mattress and tossing it off onto the shoulder before
continuing up the road.  When caught, his reply reportedly was, “It’s not my
fault.  I didn’t have any way to put out the fire.”

I cringe whenever I see a stove being used near – or worse, in – a
tent.  Regardless
if the stove has a shut-off valve the first and immediate tendency is to
pitch or kick it away from camp.

My personal reaction to the extreme fire hazard in S. California in the last
few years has been to leave the stove – any stove – at home and eat only
cold food.  In two recent trips through the deserts between Campo and
Kennedy Meadows I’ve struck fire exactly once:  That was to use a borrowed
Bic lighter to melt the ends of some cut Nylon cord inside the shop at
Hikertown.  In contrast, I heard one hiker bragging that he and his posse
had had a campfire every evening during an entire thru-hike.

In spite of that, I’m not fond of outright bans on “things”.  Behavior is
the problem, not the "thing".  A ban would inconvenience responsible people,
but it clearly would not influence the ever-present irresponsible dirt-bags.
Without a clear way for an office bureaucrat to distinguish one type of
open-flame stove from another the answer will be, “No flames of any kind”,
or worse the ultimate CYA, “The trail is closed until further notice.”


Hiking the Pct since before it was the PCT – 1965



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