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Washington Wildfires: Tips for Campers, Hikers

Posted by Loren D at Aug 17, 2012 01:30 PM |
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With two large wildfires burning, burn bans, poor air quality, hazy views and a forecast of hot weather all have the potential to impact hikers and campers this weekend. Learn why you may want to avoid hiking the Teanaway area and refresh your fire prevention skills.

Two large wildfires are burning in Washington: the Taylor Bridge Fire, which has done so much damage near Cle Elum, and the largely contained Buffalo Lake Road in the Coulee Dam. Burn bans, poor air quality, hazy views and a forecast of hot weather all have the potential to impact hikers and campers this weekend.

Safe to hike the Teanaway region?

While most hiking trails near the Taylor Bridge Fire have remained unaffected by the 22,000+ acre fire, WTA staff in the region report there is a lot of smoke and poor air quality. It may be best to avoid hiking in the Teanaway area until conditions improve.

Earlier this week, the Cle Elum ranger also advised hikers to stay off of Table Mountain trails (just north of Ellensburg) as a precaution in case the fire changes direction.

Tip: If you ever have a question about hiking in a region with an active wildfire, contact or visit a ranger station.

Statewide wildfire prevention

With the Taylor Bridge Fire near Cle Elum and Ellengsburg only about 30% contained, officials are asking the entire state to help prevent new fires from cropping up.

“The next three days are going to be very dangerous in terms of the potential for wildfire. That is true in Western Washington as well as Eastern Washington. It is everyone’s responsibility to be safe and not take any risks,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “We have hundreds of firefighters fighting two major wildfires in Washington and resources are stretched thin by fires across the West. Now is the time to be ever-vigilant.”

Backcountry refresher

If you're in the backcountry, and especially during high-risk times, it's best to avoid having a campfire altogether. Oftentimes campfires are prohibited above a certain elevation or near certain bodies of water.

If you must have a backcountry fire, follow the Leave No Trace principes:

  • Make sure to check and follow all regulations. In some areas, regulations change depending on the season because of fire danger.
  • Use only established fire rings, keep your campfire small and never leave a fire unattended.
  • Use small pieces of wood gathered only from the ground and never break branches or cut down trees for a campfire.
  • After a campfire is completely out, cool to touch, and all the wood turned to coal, scatter the cool ashes.

For more info check out: Leave No Trace's Minimize Campfire Impacts.

Campfire safety: if it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave

No matter where you're camping, make sure your campfire is built and put out responsibly. (Adapted from guidelines from the Gifford Pinchot and Mt. Hood national forests Fire Staff):

Building a fire

  • Make sure a campfire is allowed. Check to see if there is a burn ban in your county.
  • Find a shady spot away from dry logs, branches, bushes, needles or leaves.
  • Make sure there are no overhanging tree branches near the fire.
  • Use existing fire-rings where it is safe to do so. Don’t build fire-rings in roads.
  • If needed, scoop a small hole to mineral soil in the center of the pit. Set this material aside, and replace it in the ring when the fire is totally out before leaving the area.
  • Place rocks if available around pit. When finished, put rocks back where they were found.
  • Keep campfire rings small and use wood no bigger than the ring.

Enjoying a fire

  • Never leave a campfire unattended.
  • Keep tents and other burnable materials away from the fire.

Putting it out

  • Fires can often creep along the ground slowly burning roots and dead leaves. Days later, the smoldering fire could break out into a real wildfire.
  • When leaving, make sure your fire is dead out. Very carefully feel all sticks and charred remains. Feel the coals and ashes. Make sure no roots are smoldering.
  • Drown the campfire with water and stir charred material.
  • If it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave.

More wildfire resources