More than ever, the public plays a key role in preventing wildfires
Portland, Ore., May 18, 2021 —With parts of Oregon and Washington in a drought that ranks among the driest 10% of years since 1895, it’s more important than ever for campers to help prevent wildfires this summer.
Last year, outdoor visitation surged during the pandemic and recreation officials are expecting another busy year. In 2020, 81% of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington) were caused by people. This exceeded the average over the last ten years, during which only 61% of wildfires were human-caused. Many of these wildfires began as escaped campfires.
Escaped campfires can threaten lives, homes, and livelihoods, and are costly and destructive. For Wildfire Awareness Month, the Forest Service and the Keep Oregon Green Association are reminding recreationalists how they can help:
- Check conditions—including weather forecasts and public use restrictions—before heading onto public lands. We recommend Keep Oregon Green’s webpage for the latest on fire restrictions: https://keeporegongreen.org/current-conditions/
- Consider alternatives to a campfire. Pack a portable camp stove as a safer option for outdoor cooking. These are often allowed even when campfires are prohibited. When the sun sets you can still set a “campfire storytelling” vibe by getting creative with a solar-powered lantern or a flashlight.
- Select the right spot. If campfires are allowed, use an existing ring. Fire pits in established campgrounds are the best spots. Avoid placing fires near shrubs or trees, tents, structures, or vehicles. Avoid low-hanging branches overhead and store extra firewood a good distance away.
- Clear the site to bare soil if no ring is available. Remove ground vegetation at least five feet on all sides and encircle your fire with rocks.
- Never use gasoline or other accelerants. Don’t use flammable or combustible liquids, such as gasoline, propane or lighter fluid, to start or increase your campfire.
- Keep it small. Smaller campfires are less likely to escape, and large fires are more likely cast hot embers long distances. Add firewood in small amounts, and only after existing material is consumed.
- Attend your campfire at all times. An unattended campfire can grow into a costly, damaging wildfire within minutes.
- Have water and fire tools on site. Bring a shovel and a bucket of water to extinguish any escaped embers.
- Drown all embers with water when you are ready to leave. Stir the coals, then drown them again. Repeat until the fire is DEAD out.
The basic rule of thumb is: If a fire is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.
State and federal law require the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires at any time of year. While citations and fines may apply, anyone who starts a wildfire may also end up incurring the firefighting costs. This can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.