Check on Buried Fires

A group of us went out off the grid a ways, fire roads, four wheeling, looking for a crag to climb we heard about in central California, east of Big Sur in the mountain range there. The year prior a massive wildfire came through the area just a little west of there, (Fire monk’s fire at Tassajara). We found the crag and about a mile away there was a little campground, just a few sites, fire pits, tables and an outhouse, no one out there. It was almost dark when we got in so we didn’t see the little ‘closed’ sign until the next morning, early, a ranger came through and told us to get out because it was closed. We explained about not seeing the sign and she said it was closed still because of the fires. We wanted to stay in the area for the weekend though, and she explained: “this is a national forest here, you own it, camp out wherever you want.”

Although – if you want to build a fire, you’ll have to pay a little fee and sign this thing that says you know how to put out your campfire. We sort of half read it, figured we know well enough how to put out our fires and signed, paid and went on our way.

Killer! Pulled down this road to an area by a creek, dropped our tailgates and set it up right! Climbed all day, that night cooked up a rad dinner over our fire, then stoked it up and sat around it all night till it died down and so did we.

A few embers in the morning to stoke up just enough for eggs, then as we packed up to go back out and climb, we dumped out coffee and kicked the dirt over it that we had off to the side from where we dug the fire pit – no problem. It’s out; we’re off to have fun.

So now just a little ways away, we start putting our packs together with all our climbing gear and down the trail a few hundred yards or so and we hear this honking and whistling. This ranger, calling us back, kinda pissed. They’re just like cops out there so, we jumped to attention. She said, “C’mon lets go back to your camp and see how you put out that campfire”. We were like, “what?” but also knew we must be in trouble.

We got back there, now with the ranger and sure enough, that thing was smoking and steaming it up again! I felt like shit. Tons of forest fire fuel in every direction, my heart sunk. What happened was she went there, kicked off some of the dirt cover and exposed what was still smoldering under the surface. It was still hot, and if enough wind had come by to blow away the dirt on top, it would be enough wind to fuel those embers too. And what next but potential devastation?

         So – what happens when we just bury a fire?

 She explained, as the paper we signed did, the RIGHT way to put out a fire and hang around long enough to be sure you actually did. It takes a LOT of water. And when you pack in your own water, you can be stingy with it – but really we just weren’t prepared. 10 gallons of water – you only need like 2 to drink – the rest is for putting out your fire!

I’ve buried my fires. Thought they were buried enough that no wind would ever blow off the dirt I covered them in. But when unaware, not feeling them to see if they were still warm, some wind came along and stirred it up when I wasn’t looking – the next thing I know, some little spark gets loose and the whole place is up in flames.

Check on buried fires.