Preventing Wildfires: 6 Things You Need to Know

Photo Credit: WildandFree (iStock).

It’s been a dry year in Colorado, something that will likely set the Centennial State up for a very dangerous wildfire season. While some fires occur naturally and serve a purpose, many are started by careless humans. Here are six tips that will help you prevent this problem instead of being a part of it. And yes, this might not be the most exciting subject to read about. We get that. However, by making sure that people know the proper fire safety etiquette, we can help keep the outdoors accessible by actively working to prevent a disaster that shuts it down (as in the case of Waldo Canyon).

1. Know the CURRENT rules where you’re at.

No, no, no. That “campfire ban” isn’t a recommendation. It’s set up to help prevent huge swaths of land from burning to a crisp. Fire bans vary from place to place, even within a state. They can also go in effect very quickly. Know the rules at your specific location before sparking up. If you don’t know the rules, err on the side of safety and don’t burn. It’s that simple. This link is a good starting point for finding out the rules where you’re headed.

2.  Weather is always worth checking.

Is it windy out? Then don’t burn things. When you’re in a dry climate, a single wind carried spark can start a burn. This can also aid to the rapid spread of fire. Did you know that wildfire can spread at 14 miles per hour? And that’s before wind or accounting for an upward-slope, both of which can vastly increase that speed.

Video shot September 5, 2011 on the north edge of Bastrop State Park near Austin. All but about 100 acres of the 6,000-acre park have been blackened by fire. Firefighters have been battling blazes for 3 days. At this point, historic CCC buildings are still intact. For more information, see

3. Only burn in controlled locations.

This is one reason why fire pits were invented – they’re meant to control a fire. Because fires can get out of control very quickly, it’s important to give them some sort of border that limits the fire from the start.

4. Don’t burn weird things (or combustible things).

While it can be common practice to toss garbage into a campfire, this should be avoided. This practice can be dangerous because different materials burn in different ways. Some materials quickly combust, while others might produce drifting ash and ember. Play it safe by burning things that are meant to be burnt…like wood and charcoal…and that’s probably about it. And yes, we know you might find it fun to spray lighter fluid onto a campfire to see the flames burst. Don’t do this either. One  mistake and you’re quickly on your way to burning down an entire forest.

5. Never leave a burning fire.

If there’s something burning, someone should be watching it. This includes that time when a fire starts to burn out. It might “look like it’s fine,” but make sure it’s completely out before leaving the space or falling asleep. It only takes one gust of wind in the wrong direction to spark a fire that won’t be easily stopped.

6. Keep watchin’ those butts.

If you’re smoking, make sure your butt is out before you vacate the scene. Cigarette butts can easily spark a flame when they’re casually tossed aside. It should go without saying, but this rule isn’t just limited to tobacco products. Make sure that joint is also completely out. As mentioned by several readers, tossing a cigarette butt out of a car window is also very problematic. Reader suggestions for those smoking and driving include using a half water-filled soda can or bottle as a makeshift cupholder ashtray. This way, you’ve got a place to put your butt and an easy cleanup.

Preventing forest fires is a team effort. When conditions are this dry, everyone that’s enjoying the outdoors needs to be proactive about preventing human-caused fire. Otherwise, places are destroyed and areas are shut down. No one wants that.



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