Wildfires have always been a part of the landscape in the American West. Fire’s violent ability to destroy also ensures the health and regenerative ability of the forests and grasslands in which we recreate. Its impact completes an important step of the nitrogen cycle in the soil and helps certain species, like lodgepole pines, release their seeds for the next generation of trees. What is worrisome about wildfire trends is the high intensities and large scale of wildfires in recent years, which are undeniably the result of land mismanagement, climate change and a misunderstanding of fire's role on the landscape. While most of these issues are too large and complex for the average person to address, one thing people can do to reduce unnecessary wildfire is to eliminate their chances of accidentally starting one.
If you are going to an area that is dried-out and at risk of fire, the first thing you can do is to properly park your vehicle to eliminate the chance of it causing a burn. Cars and trucks should not be parked over dry, brittle ground in the middle of the summer. The heat from your vehicle's undercarriage can act like a barbeque ignitor, causing dangerous dry materials like cheatgrass to combust from direct contact with your vehicle. Another thing to watch out for is faulty wiring from your vehicle. This can cause sparks to fly and ignite the dry tinder sitting underneath your car. Make sure to park your vehicle in an area that has dirt, gravel or some other non-flammable material to ensure that you don’t return to the charred frame of your vehicle and a hillside covered in fire.
A common suggestion is to be aware of how you're handling open flames. If you are a smoker, take responsibility by ensuring your cigarette, cigar or whatever you’re enjoying is fully put out after you are done. Quickly stomping on it in a safe area is a fantastic way of smothering the flame before you throw it away in the trash. For larger flames such as a campfire, the same ideas apply. Ensure that your flame and embers are extinguished along with covering any residually warm objects such as wood char with dirt. Drowning your campfire with water is the best way to be certain that there is no residual fire burning and that there won't be any unforeseen growth of the fire.
Another important idea to keep in mind when handling a campfire is to use a flame-resistant barrier such as rocks or bricks to create a boundary between your flame and the surrounding area. In most situations campfires shouldn’t even be attempted until there is a rock boundary and a water bucket or bottle nearby to extinguish any unforeseen flare-ups from causes like a dramatic increase in wind.
Too many fires are caused by lack of forethought when it comes to using fireworks, dragging trailer chains or using smoke bombs for an Instagram-inspired baby gender reveal. The majority of wildfires caused by humans are unfortunately a result of people not using some good old common sense. It’s important to think carefully when out in our beautiful, undeveloped places. If you are going to do something where there’s potential to cause a spark and the conditions are ripe for a fire, you must use your best judgement and restrain yourself from doing that activity. For example, if you are target shooting, ensure that you aren’t firing at any rock or metal targets that bullets can ricochet off of and cause a spark. A misjudged decision can lead to the destruction of land, property, livestock, wildlife and even human life. You’ll be held directly responsible by the law for any damage that resulted from your poor decision-making.
Wildfires have been and continue to be an important part of our landscape’s regeneration, but human-caused wildfires must end. It’s up to everyone to help suppress ignorance and instead advocate for being fire-smart in our vulnerable areas. Some important resources to find more information are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest Services (NFS) websites, along with other more physical locations such as trailhead signs or ranger stations. Reducing human-caused wildfires requires everyone's active participation.