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/.