Fires and Hiking

Camp Fires / Bushfires

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.

Campfires

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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.

Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Army out of the packet

A welcoming camp fire

Remains on an illegal fire site on the Larapinta Trail in Australia’s Northern Territory

Bushfire

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
  • Check the fire danger ratings and bush fire alerts for the intended hiking area. Most states will have fire warning on the rural fire service or the national park websites e.g. sites such as rfs.nsw.gov.au or on the Fires Near Me Australia Smartphone application 
  • Check the weather conditions at bom.gov.au
  • Check whether a Total Fire Ban is in place. Do not use fires or stoves on these days
  • Check if there are fires in your area and the direction they are traveling. Remember that fire can change direction with no notice
  • Carry an emergency beacon and/or a mobile phone. Remember that setting off an emergency beacon is not a substitute for planning and the response time may take a while.

Once you are out hiking and if there is a fire approaching, turn back if it is safe. If not then:

  • Don’t panic. Clear thinking is what is needed if you are caught in a fire
  • Don’t try outrun the fire
  • Find a cleared area with rocks, hollows, embankments, streams or roads to protect you and avoid hilltops
  • Keep low and cover your skin. Natural fabrics are the way to go
  • Drink water and cover your mouth with a damp cloth
  • Let someone know what is happening.

Royal National Park bushfires 2018

Fires Near Me Australia App 

Last Words

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.

References

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