It was the first weekend of the fire ban, and already people were unhappy about not being able to have campfires.
One guy pulled his saddest face before he even got out of his truck. He was full of questions, delivered in a sad little tone of voice, as if maybe I’d feel sorry for him and tell him he could go ahead and have a campfire anyway.
But why was there a fire ban? he wanted to know. The campfire was his favorite part of camping.
I tried to explain that California is five years into a drought. (How do people from California–as this man was–not know about California’s drought?) I tried to explain how it’s really dry in the forest and the fire danger is high.
He wanted to know how much rain we’d need before the fire ban is lifted.
I don’t know, I said. A lot.
I don’t know if he thought a small shower would make campfires ok again. He must have no idea how the fire ban works. He must not understand that the Forest Service (probably someone high up in the Forest Service) makes the fire ban decision, not me. Even if it had started raining bears and chipmunks, the Forest Service is not going to lift the fire ban on a weekend and send someone out to my campground to let me know so I can tell my campers it’s now fine to light up the fire wood.
The sad man’s friend assured me they weren’t going to break any laws. I told him I was mostly concerned with not burning down the forest.
On one side of the campground, two sites were taken by two middle age Latino bothers and their families. The first family was good-natured about the rule against campfires, although one ten-year old boy did ask, How will we make s’mores?
When I went to the other brother’s campsite, I immediately saw a jumbo bag of charcoal, a sure sign this family knew nothing about the fire ban (or was at least hoping they could claim to know nothing about it). These people obviously had plans for that big bag of charcoal, and it was my job to thwart those plans.
I told the man about the fire ban. He didn’t get rude; in fact, he stayed friendly, but I could tell he was quite disappointed.
He looked at me sadly and said, I was going to share our carne asada with you, but now we won’t have any.
Bribery! He was trying to bribe me with food. Here was a man who somehow knew how to get to me–food! Now maybe if he had said carnitas…
It was my turn to look sad, thinking of the carne asada I wouldn’t get to eat. I shook my head and said, We all have to sacrifice…
I choose the longevity of the forest over the fleeting pleasures of a meal.