While Chaffee County enjoyed plenty of moisture this past winter and spring, no one can predict what the weather will bring this summer.
Visitors should always take precautions when starting fires on the Upper Arkansas Valley’s vast public lands, noting particularly whether the county sheriff has enacted burning restrictions prior to starting a campfire.
What a campfire needs
A fire needs fuel and oxygen. Wind will “rapidly make it grow,” Salida Fire Chief Doug Bess said.
To start fires, it is best, for safety reasons, to use natural starters, including twigs or commercial fire starters, Robert Bertram, Chaffee County Fire Protection District chief, said.
Before starting a fire, have ready: a water source, a shovel and sand, Elijah Wilcox, Boy Scout Troop 60 member, said.
Boy Scout Troop 60 member Luke Johnson recommended having these items when building a fire: a fire extinguisher; an ignition source, such as matches or a lighter; tinder – fluffy materials; kindling – wood that’s less than a pinky’s length; and logs.
When starting a campfire
Check local fire restrictions and check weather conditions. High winds and fire are not friendly, Bertram said.
Ensure there is a clear space around the area, “preferably in an approved fire ring,” Bess said.
Tent camping with a fire?
Make sure the tent is at least 10 feet from the fire and the fire is being built in an area that has at least 10 feet of clear area above it, Wilcox said.
Light the fire in a pit, preferably already established. Johnson said that burning the soil sterilizes it, and moving fire pits causes multiple areas of sterilized soil.
If it is windy, starting a campfire is probably not the best idea, Johnson said.
When should it be extinguished?
If winds come up or begin erratically changing direction, Bess said, a fire should be extinguished. If flying embers are present, it is also a good indicator the fire needs to be extinguished.
If there are gusts of wind causing the embers to jump, the fire should be extinguished, Bertram said
How to extinguish a fire
Have a shovel and water, put water on the coals and “basically make mud.” Before leaving the campsite, check the coals for heat by putting the back of your hand near the coals, Bess said.
“The biggest thing is to be mindful of where embers fall. ... If it starts exceeding a 10-by-10 area, get out of the area and call for help,” Bertram said.
It is handy to have a water source nearby to extinguish the fire, Wilcox said.
Listen for hissing, because there shouldn’t be any when leaving the area, Johnson said. He also said there should be no smoke or much heat being emitted from the pit.
Touch the top for a few moments before leaving the area.