My last days as a camp host were some of the hardest.
After Labor Day, the company I was working for had me move to the large campground where I’d started as a camp host. Even with a golf cart, thirty-two family campsites and seven group campsites made for a lot of ground to cover. I had sixteen vault toilets to keep clean, and I was still working at the parking lot, which involved a twenty-four mile daily commute.
The temperature dropped, and I was cold, especially at night. I could barely get myself out of bed and dressed in the morning without firing up my Mr. Buddy heater. (To read more about my Mr. Buddy Heater, go here: https://throwingstoriesintotheether.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/staying-warm/.)
The campers were cold too. People were not happy when I told them the fire ban was still in effect and campfires were strictly prohibited. Folks were begging me to allow campfires, and some of them were probably considering offering me a bribe (which wouldn’t have worked.) I stood firm. I was not going to let a campfire slip by and be responsible for a wildfire.
One weekend I checked in three groups, two on group campsites and the third on two side-by-side single campsites. They all claimed ignorance of the fire ban, and none or them were the least but happy when I told them about it. However, someone in each party signed a permit on which I had written “no fire–wood or charcoal.”
On Saturday evening, I left the campground and drove to the parking lot to empty the self-pay envelopes from the iron ranger. It was dark when I returned to the campground.
As soon as I turned off of the highway and pulled into the entrance to the campground, I smelled something. Sniff! Sniff! What was that smell? Sniff! Sniff! Someone had a fire burning!
I turned the truck into the group campground area. I had two sites occupied by parties of young men–and I do mean parties. I’d seen the alcohol being unloaded. I’d seen the ladder golf setup in the middle of the parking lot. I’d seen the one guy in the giraffe suit. (Please do not ask me to explain this cosplay because I simply cannot.) I suspected I’d find the fire in that area.
I stopped the truck near the first occupied campsite and peered through the darkness. I saw a flickering light, but determined it was from a propane lantern (which was allowed) and not a prohibited campfire. I slowly drove the truck around the curve to the next campsite and saw the fire.
The young men were on an unfortunate campsite for having an illicit campfire. There was no hiding what they were doing, as the fire ring was in full sight of the road.
I got out of the truck and walked over to the group of young men.
Is that a campfire? I asked. (Not my finest opening line, I do admit.)
Well, said the very short man I soon realized was the ringleader, it’s hard to tell.
I told the group that campfires were not allowed.
We were cold, the short man said.
I told the group that Mr. Lee (not his real name) had signed the permit and knew campfires were not permitted. Hadn’t Mr. Lee told them that campfires were not permitted? They admitted that Mr. Lee had told them campfires were prohibited, but they were cold.
Where is Mr. Lee? I asked the group.
Uhhh…They thought he was sleeping. I thought he was standing over there, in the shadows, by the tree. Luckily for Mr. Lee, I didn’t have a clear memory of his face, and it was dark out there, so I wasn’t sure if he were standing close by.
I gave the young men a stern lecture on forest fires and responsibility and monetary cost and the loss of animal and human life. I told them they’d probably face a stiff fine if I had to get the Forest Service involved.
One guy was kind of dancing around and apologizing and assuring me they’d put the fire out.
I knew the fire was going out. I knew I was going to put the fire out before I left the campsite. I knew they’d have to put on more clothes or get into their sleeping bags because we’re cold did not override a complete fire ban covering the entire National Forest.
I knew I had a five gallon bucket in the truck, so I walked over to fill it from the water tank in the truck’s bed. The short guy said he’d help, and he followed me.
The whole time we were waiting for water to fill the bucket, he told me he understood if people couldn’t have fires in the summer, but now it was cold people should be allowed to have fires. I tried to explain that the forest was till in danger because it was dry, that the danger hadn’t gone away just because it was no longer hot. All he cared about was not being cold, and I had little sympathy because all I cared about was not burning down the forest. I don’t think we reached any kind of mutual understanding.
He offered to carry the bucket of water back to the campsite, and I let him. I figured since he started the fire, the least he could do was carry the water to put it out.
I poured the water over the fire, pretty much putting it out, then filled a second bucket with water and dumped that on the remains of the fire. I wanted to make sure not an ember, not a spark, was left to blow away and cause trouble.
Those young men must have been really cold early the next morning when the temperature dropped and the precipitation started. Last I saw them, they were runny through the icy rain, hurriedly packing their cars so they could return to their (presumably) warm homes.
To read more stories of campers and fire restrictions, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/18/where-theres-smoke/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/15/what-do-people-do/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/27/fire-restrictions/.