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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Demonizing The Campfire

A “campfire,” Just the word alone conjures up a special picture for most of us. 
Cavemen had campfires, and all indigenous peoples had them. It was not just for pleasure but to cook and stay warm, to keep back the unknown during the dark of night.

    Bringing it right up to date, we have a long history and tradition in this country surrounding the campfire. It is legend. It seems to some to be part of our DNA, rushing through our blood from ancestors who are unknown but speaking to us through the campfire. It brings us a special message, a bonding of a kind we do not find elsewhere, when you have shared a campfire with friends and strangers alike. 

Mental pictures of campfires are like a TV, flickering in front of our mind’s eye. Sitting around toasting marshmallows, cooking ash cakes, and a dutch oven sitting on the coals, at the same time keeping us warm. The smell of smoke and the glow of the coals, holding back the night, all this is hardwired into our DNA.

 It seems like a gift we should always be able to use and to have when we need it. I cannot begin to relate all the collective memories millions of us have stored as a part of our outdoor experience around the campfire.

Assault Against the Campfire

Over the last 50 years and more, an unfair war has been waged against the campfire. And this battle has been waged against us, the campfire users, the real woods-runners, the hunters, the trekker, the casual camper -- anyone who uses a campfire. We are made out to be mad demons and stupid for wanting to be part of nature. A bunch of louts, and drunken bums starting fires in reckless abandon. 

The campfire as we know it is slowly being taken away from us, by mostly well meaning but misinformed petty government workers on all levels. From the city, county, state and federal levels, it is a war against us, The Demons. It is a battle that has heated up over 50 years and continues as a hard core brainwashing of the public and themselves, demonizing the campfire. WE are the said Demons. We had a campfire, we are bad. It’s the law. 

Getting Real

It is getting very difficult in many places to have a “legal” campfire. By legal I mean getting a permit! What? For a campfire!

The pitched battle rages on. An assault like no other on all outdoorsmen and women.  And by now, most folks fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Campfires are bad, they start wild fires and cause billions of dollars’ worth of damages, etc. After all, man accounts for about 85% of all wild fires and forest fires. Well, that’s factual, but let’s go deeper.

I began to dig. I’m not happy with what I found. On the other hand it shows how we are not all that smart.  And we are not the demons they make us out to be. 

 The road I took was amazing, I was astonished at the twists and turns. The maze of statistics that became meaningless in the redundant repetition. Finally a few breaks, buried deep within the right wording when doing a search on the net, finding the right set of documents; the wording has to be just right to find the real deal about forest fires, wild fires, “manmade fires,” accidents, which are man-made or from lightning, etc. All things get lumped into a huge statistic, and it is very misleading. I am going to throw some statistics at you.

Gathering facts on Wild Fires, Forest Fires

West Virginia statistics for forest and wild fires, the cause: debris burning 32% (man-made fire), arson 35% (man-made fire), children 6% (man-made fire), equipment 12% (man-made fire), smokers 4% ( man-made fire), lightning 1% (not man-made), railroads 1%, and campfires stand at 2%!  Very interesting.  In a lot of cases, the “investigators” can claim it was a campfire when in fact all the evidence has been so trampled by fire fighters that if they find a “fire ring” somewhere, that is where the finger points, and it’s a done deal. 

Fire is an exciting thing for many people for many different reasons. Serial arsonists are very seldom caught, and some go on for years and years. Solving arson-set fires stands at 10%. Not a very good track record. 

Across the country, the statistics are about or close to the same for arson set fires. Of those arson fires, a shocking 30 to 35% are set by firefighters themselves! A forest service arson investigator is in prison for setting dozens if not hundreds of fires in southern California.

In another case, a volunteer fire fighter set wild fires.  A serial arsonist used mosquito coils fit with a timing device. The mosquito coils are a clay-like substance and can smoulder for hours.  These can be thrown from a moving car like a frisbee at high speed. The coils vanish as they turn to ash, they get trampled on or are washed away by water.  Dozens of fires were most likely started by this method in Yolo County, California. 

In 2008 over 800 fires were started by lightning in California. In 2000 more than 122, 000 wild fires ignited in the western mountainous states of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. According to the data base complied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lightning starts almost 60% of all fires on “public lands” in these states. To date (2009), Yellowstone has had 15 fires, 13 by lightning. There was no other data on what caused the other two fires.

Damage by lightning is estimated at $4 to $6 billion a year. 

More Statistics For Making Our Case

Department of Forestry statistics: Open burning or a “controlled”“ burn caused wild fires 30%, arson 20%, smokers 14%, house, cars, and aircraft, 11%, children 9%,  equipment use 7%, railroads 5%, lightning  5%, campfires 1%.  You can see the statistics vary a bit from place to place, but the campfire, always remains at the bottom of the list. 

A “prescribed fire” as opposed to a wildfire is supposed to be “contained.” In Arizona, 9/21/09 through 10/23/09, four fires of 2,100, 2,200, 2,800 acres each were “prescribed “fires that went out of control. The National Interstate Fire Center reports that for Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, fires are from lightning, followed by trains, and machinery, sparks, and cigarette butts.  Not one mention of campfires. “What is the main cause of wild fires?” My question and the answer is, In  order, they are: Lightning, fireworks, debris burning, arson, slash and burn farming, lawn mowers, kids with fireworks, cars, downed power-lines, pot growing operations, but not one word about campfires.

According to, wild fires in California, from 1997 to 2001, an average of 392 wild fires were arson, more common than by lightning. They also state animals short circuit powerlines and oil well drilling contribute their fair share also. 


Campfires or the remains of a campfire (i.e., the remains of a campfire, a circle of stones, a “dug pit” etc.)  are often pointed out as the culprit with no evidence that these particular “campfires” started anything. They are just easy targets, and insurance companies want answers as well. The term “man-made” or human cause of wild fires is very misleading. It invites the mind to jump to conclusions. And the wrong conclusion most of the time. From these statistics, about 99% of the time. 
Glass fragments with lens properties such as a concave reflecting light onto a small focus with the temperature in the 90s can start a fire. Human caused?  Of course. This is from the “Kirks Fire Investigator,” NFPA by John Dehaan. What an eye-opener this book is. It is the bible for fire investigation, where I found the info above. 

The Demon Is Not Us

The war against us and Campfires is way out of control and we are losing. Why? Simple “propaganda,” the railing about and against campfires, demonizing in its best suite. The propaganda is winning and we have bought into it for years. By the time my grand kids are young adults, no fires will be allowed anywhere if this nonsense keeps up. 

Have campfires actually caused wild fires?  Of course they have, but not on the massive scale we are led to believe -- not even close.
What we need is proper education in the preparing of a campfire space, choosing the right place for the campfire, the importance of what can happen, how fast a fire can get away from us, a bucket of water, and shovel for dirt – these are no- brainers. It is really pretty easy for the responsible camper to use a bit of common sense, and the skills to handle the situation. 

You do not need a giant blazing monster to cook with – that’s only in the movies.  You need to be prudent and clear the forest duff at least 3 feet around the chosen spot, and watch the overhead and the wind. These things are easy to handle with the right skills, observation, and education. 
Campfires are a part of our heritage, our tradition, and we just should not stand back and let them take it away from. In light of the misleading statistics, we are being demonized because we are an obvious target, and an easily-brainwashed target at that. When you consider that we account for 1% and maybe less of all wildfires, we should not even be on the radar. The big deal is arson -- and many times arson from within the ranks. I’m not taking a low shot at the brave firefighters -- not even close.  But the facts are there and cannot be denied. These men do put their lives on the line, and unfortunately they lose those lives because of sick renegade firefighter arsonists and other reasons. By the same token we do not want them to continue to make us the demons; we just want our campfire.
“Going green,” by the way, is part of fire. Many plants, such as oaks, manzanitas, and many others, cannot grow well without fire.  Fire is not the demon and neither are campfires.  

By Dude McLean

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1 comment:

  1. I was truly shocked at the stats and how they get twisted, I wrote this a few years ago but in a recent search nothing has changed.. like most of the articles here this is not time sensitive...