Tag Archives: campfires

Sadness and Bribery


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.

What Do People Do?


It was my last day as a camp host, and I’d been busting my ass. I spent the morning checking in campers and making sure all the restrooms had toilet paper. I spent several hours in the afternoon working at the parking lot, which was busy for so late in the season. I was tired when I got back to the campground, and I still had to drive back to the parking lot right before dark to empty the iron ranger. I was trying to complete as much of my paperwork as I could so I’d have less to do after collecting the last of the self-pay envelopes.

I was sitting at the desk in the office/garage when a tall young man with curly hair approached me. He told me (in an accent I couldn’t identify but which marked him as a non-native speaker of English) that his party (“we,” he said, which turned out to be him and his wife) had a reservation for site #4 but were concerned because there was no bear box on the site. He wondered if they could have site #6 instead. Site #6 wasn’t reserved and I really didn’t give a damn where they pitched their tent, so I told him sure, no problem. I said they should go ahead and set up on site #6, and I’d come around when I finished what I was working on and get them to sign their permit.

The young man seemed happy with my willingness to let them camp on the site they wanted. As he was leaving, he said, We’ll have to bother you later for some firewood.

Oh no! They didn’t know about the fire ban. They thought they’d be buying wood from the camp host (me!) and spending the evening in front of a toasty fire. Apparently it was going to be my job to burst their bubble.

I shook my head and told him no fires were allowed anywhere in the National Forest. I told him I had no wood to sell because campfires were prohibited.

He stood there and looked at me as if in shock. He wanted to know how they would cook. He wanted to know how they would stay warm. I told him campfires were not allowed. I told him campfires were prohibited. No campfires. No campfires. No campfires.

He said he was going to get his wife. I don’t know if he thought he and I had a language barrier and his wife (with her presumably superior English language skills) would understand my words as something other than no campfires. I don’t know if he thought his wife and I would have some female bonding, and I’d give her permission to have a fire. I don’t know what he thought, and while I didn’t mind talking to his wife, I knew whatever his wife had to say wouldn’t change anything.

The two of them were soon standing right inside the garage/office. The woman was short, with curly hair pulled back. Both were wearing shorts and tank tops and sandals. Both seemed, if not athletic, outdoorsy. The woman spoke with no discernible accent.

She said “the website” said they couldn’t bring firewood into the National Forest and should buy it from the camp host. (Campers often referred to “the website” when I gave them information they didn’t like. “The website” said the campground had water. “The website” said the nightly camping fee was $12. Apparently people don’t realize that not every website with some information about a campsite is the official website with official, accurate information. Apparently some people do believe everything they read on the internet and forget that much information on websites is old, and while perhaps correct when posted, is currently wildly inaccurate.)

The wife said the woman on the phone who’d made their reservation hadn’t mentioned a fire ban. I agreed that the woman should have mentioned the fire ban, but I couldn’t allow them to have a fire just because they hadn’t been told about the ban in advance.

I mentioned the signs throughout the National Forest which boldly proclaimed No Campfires. They claimed to have not seen a single one of them.

The couple started to grow a bit frantic.

They’d been in the car for many hours, the wife told me. They were hungry. How were they going to eat? I suggested they cook on their camp stove. Of course, they didn’t have a camp stove. (I wonder what they’d planned to do if it had been raining or snowing and they couldn’t get a fire started or keep it going.) I suggested they might want to go to the restaurant two miles down the road. They ignored that suggestion. It was getting cold, she told me. How would they stay warm, he asked, without a campfire? (I didn’t mention socks, long pants, long sleeves, jackets, and hats might be a good start for staying warm…in the mountains…in October.)

They kept talking in circles. They hadn’t been told. They didn’t know. How would they cook? It was cold. What would they eat? No one had told them. How would they stay warm? They didn’t know. The website didn’t say. They were hungry. They’d been in the car. They’d be cold. The lady hadn’t said. They couldn’t cook without a fire. They were hungry. No one had told them. It was cold.

Finally, I told them they could have a fire if they were on private land, since the fire ban only applied to National Forest–public–land. Then (of course) they wanted to know where to find a private campground where they could stay.

Honestly, the only private campground I knew of was at least twenty miles away, and I didn’t know if their season ended after Labor Day weekend of if they were still open. I suggested they go to the little community nine miles north and ask around about a private campground in the area where they could have a fire. (I also let them know there was at least one restaurant in the community, but I think they were hellbent on cooking over a fire.)

I was trying to be compassionate and helpful, but I got really annoyed when I realized they expected me to solve problems which were caused by them being totally unprepared. The bottom line was that no matter how (or how often) they explained their problems and no matter how compassionate and helpful I was, I was not going to allow them to have a campfire. And a campfire was all they really wanted.

As they were finally about to leave, the young man looked at me sadly and asked, What do people do at night if they can’t have a campfire?

I kept my mouth shut, but I thought, Buddy, you and your wife must not have a very happy relationship if you have to ask me what you should do at night to pass the time if there’s no campfire to sit next to.

When I mentioned the situation to another camping couple, the man looked lovingly at his lady partner and while snickering, said, I know what we do to stay warm.

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/2015/11/13/but-were-cold/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/27/fire-restrictions/.

We Were Cold


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/.

Where There’s Smoke…


The camping season may be coming to an end, but my first weekend back in the big campground was a busy one. On Friday night, I only had three regular campsites rented (and six of twenty-eight rented on Saturday night), but I had four group campsites (with 14, 16, 17, and 31 people on them) occupied.

The golf cart had a leaky tire, which by Thursday evening was too flat to roll, so on Friday afternoon after I worked my four hour shift in the parking lot, I walked all over the big campground to check-in everyone. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that in this bigger campground, it’s a farther walk from my van to the nearest restroom than it was to walk from one side to the other of the smaller campground where I lived and worked. So by dark on Friday night, I was tired.

When I got into bed a bit after dark on Friday, the folks who’d reserved group site C had not arrived. I hoped maybe they wouldn’t show because I had plenty of work without them. However, when I got to that side of the campground on Saturday morning, site C was definitely occupied by an extended Latino family.

The man who’d made the reservation was still asleep, I was told by his wife, whom I’d happened upon in the parking area. I got the information for the permit from her and told her about the fire ban that was still very much in effect in the National Forest. When I told her no campfires were allowed, she seemed disappointed, but agreeable.

I walked over to another campsite to ask a question of the camper. The woman there asked, We’re allowed to have campfires?

When I said no, she pointed to the campsite I’d just left. From where we stood, we could see smoke streaming from that site. I said I’d investigate. I thought maybe we were seeing smoke from breakfast cooking on a portable gas appliance, but the woman who’d pointed out the smoke said the campfire had been going all night.

I walked back to the campsite with the alleged fire. I found the woman with whom I’d spoken only moments before, the woman I’d told explicitly no campfires. I told her I saw a lot of smoking coming from her campsite and asked if they’d had a campfire. By this point I was on the campsite and could see smoke drifting from the fire ring. Busted!

The woman admitted they’d burned a few acorns (I think she meant pine cones), but said they hadn’t brought any wood to burn. I told her I’d get a bucket of water to put out the remnants of the fire.

Thankfully, one of the other camp hosts was in the campground, driving the company truck to pick up trash. No way did I want to carry a five gallon bucket of water (that’s over 40 pounds, folks, awkwardly carried with one hand holding a flimsy handle) all the way from the water tank to campsite C. I filled the bucket, and the other host lifted it into the back of the pickup. He drove us over to site C and even offered to carry the water to the fire ring. I walked over with him.

When we walked right up to the fire ring, I saw it did not contain the remains of a few acorns (or pine cones). In the ring was a rather large charred piece of wood. No wonder there was so much smoke. (And we all know, where there’s smoke, well, if there’s no longer fire, you can bet there was fire earlier.)

As my co-worker dumped the water on the hot remains of the fire, several older women wrapped in blankets and sitting at a picnic table nearby began shouting No! No! No! in Spanish. I told them having the fire was illegal, but my co-worker started talking over me, telling them about the fire ban I was perfectly capable of explaining. (Thanks for the sexism, dude! I guess that’s what I get for not being able to carry my own 40+ pound bucket of water.)

Of course, the campers claimed they didn’t know about the fire ban, although

#1 There are “No Campfires” signs throughout the forest, including at the front of the campground they were staying in.

#2 The state has been suffering a drought for four years.

#3 Coverage of nearby wildfires is all over the news.

I can’t say I really believe they didn’t know they shouldn’t build a fire.

When I went back later in the morning to get the man who’d made the reservation to sign the permit, I said to his wife, No more campfires, right?

She said, Oh,no!

I decided if I found evidence of another campfire during their stay, I was turning the situation over to the Forest Service.


I took this photo of my campground’s fire ban sign.

I found no evidence of fire on that campsite during the rest of that family’s stay. I guess they got the message.

To read more stories of campers and fire restrictions, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/15/what-do-people-do/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/13/but-were-cold/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/27/fire-restrictions/.

Fire Restrictions


On the 6th of July, very strict fire restrictions went into effect. Up until that time, fires were allowed in fire rings in campgrounds; folks doing dispersed/primitive camping could not have fires. On July 6th, fires were banned even in campgrounds. Any smoking became restricted to inside cars with doors and windows closed. Use of camp stoves with an on/off switch was not banned, but a fire permit is needed to legally use them.

Signs were posted on the sides of roads throughout the forest, as well as on the information board in campgrounds, including mine.

For almost two weeks, no one tried to have a campfire in my campground. Whenever I checked people in, I immediately told them the most important thing they needed to know was NO CAMPFIRES. At my supervisor’s request, I started writing “no fire, wood or charcoal” on camping permits, near where the camper signs his/her name. On the copy of the permit that hangs on the pole at the front of the campsite, I was instructed to write “NF” (No Fire) so that if a ranger or company employee comes through my campground and sees a camper with a fire, the permit shows that I’ve informed the camper of the fire restrictions.

Of course, I don’t sit in my campground all day long waiting to tell campers about fire restrictions and watching for unsanctioned fires. I work at the parking lot three, four, sometimes five hours a day. That’s a lot of time for people to be in the campground with no one to make sure they don’t build a fire.

Before the restrictions, I would climb into my van between 7pm and dark and hang my curtain and take off my uniform. If campers came in after that, I’d write their permit and get them to sign it the next morning. Now, if I hear people come in early enough to possibly build a campfire, I get out of the van and talk to them about the fire ban and get them to sign their permit so they can’t say they didn’t know they couldn’t have a campfire.

Almost two weeks after the ban on campfires, I left the parking lot precisely at 3pm. As I pulled into my campground, I saw I had new campers on sites #1, #2, and #3. After parking the van, I grabbed permits and car passes and walked over to that side of the campground. The tent on site #1 was zipped, and although there was a car parked on the site, I didn’t see any people moving about, so I went to site #2.

As I walked up, I saw the folks on site #2 were preparing food to cook.  After getting their basic information, I informed them of the no campfire rule. As I looked over to their fire ring, I saw large shish kabobs sitting on the attached grill. I also noticed several pieces of purchased firewood near the fire pit.

What I didn’t notice until I took a couple of steps up higher into the campsite so I could see the license plate on their vehicle was the fire already burning in the ring. I’d just told them absolutely no campfires, but they somehow thought it would be ok to have a campfire until their meaty kabobs were cooked.

I told them I was sorry but we were going to have to put the fire out. They wanted me to wait until their dinner was cooked, but I said no. No way was I going to allow campers to have a fire for five minutes while the whole forest is under a strict fire ban. I apologized again and said I’d get a bucket of water.

When I got back with the bucket of water, I apologized so many times while I extinguished the fire that the woman told me to quit being sorry because I was only doing my job. The man never raised his voice at me or got rude, but I could tell he was angry. He said he’d made the reservation two months ago, and there had been no information about fire restrictions. I told him the fire ban had only gone into effect on July 6th, and it was the Forest Service that called for the ban, not the company I work for. I also told them there was a sign announcing the restrictions at the front of the campground. (Of course, they said they hadn’t seen the sign.)

The man thought he should have been sent an email when the ban went into effect. He was upset that he’d bought firewood he couldn’t use and that his barbecue plans had been thwarted. I was sympathetic and told him I would get him a comment card if he wanted one. He said he did want one, so I got that for him as well as the phone number to the local office and a fire permit to make the use of their camp stove legal.

Upon thinking on the situation further, I think the reservation company would have to contact campers to alert them of such changes as a fire ban, as it is the reservation company who has contact info for people who have reserved campsites. In any case, if the unhappy man pursues his complaint, someone higher than I in the chain of command can explain all that to him.

By the time I got back to site #2 with the second bucket of water needed to extinguish the fire completely, it had started raining. There was never a torrential downpour, but over the next several hours there were varying degrees of precipitation from drizzle to steady rain. Maybe Mother Nature would have accomplished the dousing of the campfire, but I wasn’t about to take any chances.

To read more stories of campers and fire restrictions, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/15/what-do-people-do/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/13/but-were-cold/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/18/where-theres-smoke/.