Forest fires are an inevitable product of the natural world in which we live, but the sad fact is this: most of them are caused by the carelessness of our fellow citizens. Part of the problem is our own sweeping efforts to prevent these fires. Instead of routinely planning controlled burns in areas of extreme growth, we attempt to prevent by word of mouth. It rarely works. Still, you should know what you might be doing wrong when you’re out in the woods.
How can you prevent forest fires that will rage out of control? Here are a few precautionary steps you might take:
- Cigarettes. Try not to smoke when exploring areas where there is extreme danger of forest fire but, if you absolutely must, then be sure to fully extinguish your cigarette butt. Better yet, take the extinguished butt with you when you make your way out of the woods. Never just toss them on the ground.
- Environment. Know your surroundings. Don’t start a fire near dry areas, especially if laws and regulations ask you not to start fires at all. Spilled fuel from lanterns, heaters, and stoves often results in accidental fires. Wind is another factor that causes many fires to spread out of control. Even tiny fires can spread during periods of high wind.
- Tools. If you must make a fire when camping or backpacking, then be sure to keep a shovel and extra water nearby in case you need to quickly extinguish the fire. Careless hikers and campers commonly start fires that grow out of control. If your fire gets too big, dump as much of your water on it as possible, and then smother it with dirt using your shovel.
- Attention. When building a fire, keep an eye on it. Try to hike or camp with a partner so there is always someone to watch your fire. Even looking away for a few minutes — such as you might do on a bathroom break — can result in a fire too big for you to put out alone. Always put out fires before you go to bed.
- Know when to call the authorities. If a fire grows too far beyond your capacity to control, then dial 911. Call the park rangers (when applicable) if you notice an unattended fire. This is a serious subject, so don’t try to give your fellow hikers and campers the benefit of the doubt. Let the rangers do their job by extinguishing the fire and evicting the careless guests.