Fire is one of those things to which we all seem to be drawn. It warms us when we’re cold, it was the main method of cooking since cooking began and for whatever reason it creates an emotive reaction in most of us – we can just sit and watch it for hours on end. Some of my best memories while hiking or camping are those connected with sitting around a fire at the end of the day. On the flip side fire can be extremely dangerous causing massive damage to the environment, to property and occasionally loss of life.
In this article we discuss fire and hiking looking at the Do’s and Don’ts to help you create the best experience when dealing with fire on the trail.
First let’s look at fires we’ve created deliberately. We get to camp and the conditions are right so you decide to create a campfire. Now I need to own up here and say that I will never build a fire while I’m out hiking (as opposed to car camping). However if someone else has one, I’m usually very happy to share in their experience.
In most cases by the time I decide to set up camp for the night it’s usually late, I’m tired and as a result it’s not uncommon for me to be in bed asleep by around 6:30-7:00pm. I just find that setting up a fire is a time consuming exercise that doesn’t stop when you decide to go to bed. You need to ensure that any fire you have lit is extinguished properly – this is something that also needs to be checked prior to leaving camp the next morning.
So let’s look at the Do’s and Don’ts for camp fires:
One thing that I would stress here is deciding to light a campfire should be a conscious decision that should take into the prevailing weather conditions with thought given to what happens if a campfire gets out of control.
Only use fires where permitted and when it’s safe to do so. Fire is allowed is some parks and reserves but banned in others so you will need to check what applies in your local area – this should be done on a hike by hike basis. If there’s a high fire danger warning or a total fire ban or even if it’s just windy, then fires are out, if not illegal.
Carefully consider the fire site. Ensure that you chosen area is clear of leaf litter and any other fuel source.
Ensure the campfire is a safe distance from tents, and that other camping equipment is stored well away including flammable items as well as any fuel . Also don’t light fires under low hanging trees. In general, position your fire in the open to minimise the possibility of a stray spark damaging your gear or starting a bushfire
Use an existing fire site as much as possible and ensure you clear away all natural fuel such as leaves and twigs that can quickly catch fire away from the fire site
Keep the fire to a reasonable size. We’re not talking bonfires here – just something small to cook or create a bit of warmth or atmosphere
To rock or not to rock? Rocks help create a contained area but if building a fire ring don’t destroy the natural habitat to build a fire pit. Remember to leave no trace. Whatever you do, don’t use rocks that have been taken from waterways or very close to water sources – the water content in them can cause them to explode when they come in contact with fire
Don’t use liquid fuel (e.g. kerosene or petrol) to start fires as it can very easily get out of control and if you get it on your hands, you can burn yourself. Use a lighter, fire starter or matches and start the fire in a slow controlled fashion
Fires should never be left unattended. So don’t leave the fire burning when you go to bed. Put your campfire out with water when you have finished. Sand or soil will work but they take a long time to cool down. Check the fire site prior to leaving camp and ensure the fire is definitely out and that the fire pit has cooled down.
Remains on an illegal fire site on the Larapinta Trail in Australia’s Northern Territory
Australia like a number of other countries in the world has a reputation for serious bushfires. In some areas hiking trails will be closed during peak fire season in an attempt to prevent accidental fires as well as minimise the potential for personal injury if you get trapped in a fire. Regardless of the time of the year or for that matter the location, you should always check the prevailing conditions for your intended hiking site.
Before bushwalking you should:
Let someone know your plans and your expected return time
As mentioned we don’t light fires on hikes but we are really happy to share the campfire of fellow hikers. Whether you choose to light a campfire is really a personal choice. This choice should be based on the legality of lighting fires combined with the prevailing conditions. The main things to consider in deciding to light a fire apart from its legality, is safety and impact on the environment.
The last thing you want to do is lose control of a campfire and create a situation where it turns into a bushfire. Not good for you and not good for the environment.