BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON— Abandoned campfires are becoming a bigger problem each and every summer in the state.
So far in 2018, Utah has had about 1,000 fires. Utah fire officials say about half of those were caused by humans.
According to Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, as of Aug. 15, 11 percent of wildfires were caused by campfires.
This is putting forests and even homes at risk. With the Labor Day weekend upon us, he said it’s important for people to know how to snuff out the flames of a campfire.
When Ryan Love builds a campfire, he looks first for a steel drum or designated campfire ring. He makes sure there is no vegetation or low-hanging branches near the campfire site, but notes that trees nearby will block any wind.
When there isn’t a steel drum, building a ring of stones works. But first, he uses a shovel he brings with him to dig down to bare mineral earth.
Love always has a shovel or hoe with him and a bucket of water. He works for Unified Fire Authority, and on a recent day he was visiting one of Utah’s many canyons. The temperatures are cooling, but that didn’t mean the fire danger is over.
“The relative humidity is still quite low, meaning it is still dry,” said Love.
Soon his campfire was crackling. But Love says don’t build it too big. Cities restrict the size and there’s risk of fallout or the wind picking up.
In the West, there are more dry flashy fuels. They’ve had problems with abandoned campfires there, but also on forest land. This week the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest tweeted a picture of one of many abandoned campfires that they have found left behind.
Fire prevention officer Reid Shelley says even a fire ring is not always safe.
“What’s in them is still hot, and all you need is a good breeze and a few sparks and it can take off. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave,” Shelley said.
“If you feel comfortable touching it, it’s OK to leave,” agreed Love.
If you can, stay with a campfire until it burns to ash. Then stir it and check if it’s cool. That could take hours, so you could use that bucket you brought and put water on it. Then stir it up.
“If you put water on hot stuff, it just bounces up. You need to stir it up,” Shelley advised.
You could use ice from your camping cooler and shovel dirt on top. Douse it again if you need to, then stir again.
“Mix this and stir this again to make sure it’s cool,” said Love, as he put his hand right on the logs to check if they are cool.
They say it’s just not worth taking a chance to walk away too soon.