We’ve reached the point in the season where campfires are banned. Of course, that means I was putting out a campfire the day after the ban went into effect. Even without a ban, I’d have been putting out this fire because it was left unattended. Seems like a bad idea to me, to leave a fire unattended, in a drought, while fire danger is high, but I guess it seemed reasonable to the folks from Maryland who’d started the campfire.
I was patrolling the campground for the hosts on their day off. I was driving slowly through the facility, looking for campers who needed to be checked-in. I saw the reservation tag on site #9, indicating the campers had arrived the day before, the first of the camp hosts’ two days off. The campers must have come in after I’d gone through around two o’clock. I saw a vehicle parked on the site and two tents pitched near the picnic table, but no campers. I figured everyone was still asleep, even though it was 10:30 and the sun had been up for hours.
I was about to drive off, when I noticed smoke rising from the fire ring on site #9. I couldn’t blame the people for not knowing about the fire ban, since they hadn’t officially been checked in, but I was annoyed they’d left their fire smoldering when no one was outside with it. Then I saw flames rising from the fire ring. This wasn’t the remains of a fire smouldering; this was a bonafide fire.
I parked my van and hopped out. As I approached the campsite, I called out Good morning! and Hello! I received no response.
I’m going to put out this campfire now, I called out. Still no response. That’s when I realized the campers had not simply left the campfire unattended by going into their tents. These people had left their fire unattended by totally leaving their campsite.
I had about a gallon and a half of wash water in the van, so I poured that on the fire. The wood sputtered and sizzled. The water boiled. Great clouds of dirty smoke billowed from the fire ring. But a gallon and a half of water isn’t enough to make sure a fire that’s been burning strong is dead out.
I drove my van to the camp hosts’ site, looking for a five gallon bucket I could fill with water. One of the hosts was waiting for me, pajama clad and wild haired, eyes still looking sleepy. I told her what was going on. She told me that she thought the campers–a father and his two daughters from Maryland–had gone to walk the trail. Wow! They’d left not just their campsite, but the entire campground with not just hot ashes in the fire ring, but full-on flames. How did that seem like a good idea?
I hauled about four gallons of water to site #9 and dumped it all into the fire ring. (When putting out an illicit fire, it’s good to leave everything too wet to support another fire any time soon.) The wood sputtered and sizzled more, and the new water boiled. I used a big stick to stir the soupy mess. Once I felt confident the fire wasn’t going to spring back to life or release ember or hot ash, I walked away.
I wasn’t done with my job, however. I wanted to leave a courtesy notice so the campers would know why their fire ring contained soggy logs and mud.
I grabbed a red pen to fill out the notice.
I checked the box next to Due to fire danger, please do not leave fires unattended. You must put all fires out completely. In the margin, I wrote Never leave fires unattended.
Then I checked the box next to Other and wrote in Complete ban on wood and charcoal fires. Fires NOT permitted.
Finally, near the bottom of the notice, I wrote You need fire permit to use stove with on/off switch.
I hoped all of that information would clue them in to what was going on.
As I told the other camp host sarcastically, This is where the fun begins…If you thought collecting extra vehicle fees was fun….
Now the check-in process will take longer, as we must verbalize all the new rules: No wood or charcoal fires. Stoves must have an on/off switch. Permits are required to use stoves. Smoking is only allowed inside vehicles with the doors closed and windows up.
And since some people are going to start fires anyway, camp hosts have to be alert for the sight and (mostly) smell of illicit fires. We will have to douse those fires and listen to the whining of campers: I didn’t know. We were cold. We were going to put it out after we cooked dinner. What are we supposed to do at night without a campfire to sit next to?
I’ll not share my reactions with campers, but in the privacy of my mind, I’ll be thinking: There are signs announcing the ban all over the forest. Put on your jackets and hats. You should have brought your propane stove. Get in your tent and have some sex.
To read stories of campers and last year’s ban on campfires, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/27/fire-restrictions/, 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/.