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As weather warms up, Memorial Day campers advised to be careful with fire

 People around a campfire under a starry sky.
Kevin Erdig
A group of campers circle a fire in the great outdoors.

The Memorial Day weekend is a popular time for Oregonians to go camping. Officials are urging caution, as the season is getting warmer and drier, increasing the chances of wildfires.

David Warnack, forest supervisor for the Willamette National Forest, recommended visitors use fire rings.

“If you're in a dispersed area without a fire ring, it's important to clear that fire area of all vegetation and then to them to keep your fire relatively manageable size right," he explained to KLCC. "The other important part is never leave a campfire unattended. If there are people attending that fire then there's a better chance that any embers that may have been blown out into vegetation can be put out very quickly.”

Mixing embers with water is an effective way to extinguish a campfire, as well.

Furthermore, campers are urged to buy local firewood within 10 miles of their site, or certified heat-treated firewood. That’s to help prevent the spread of the invasive emerald ash borer and other pests.

Warnack also says if traveling through areas with past fire damage, to keep aware of weakened trees and branches that could fall or tip over. Fire-damaged landscapes may also have weakened stability, meaning the terrain could be slippery and collapsible. When possible, find areas that are less compromised.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has sent out these six campfire tips ahead of the holiday weekend:

  • Maintain campfire flames at knee height (no more than 2 feet high). A smaller flame helps prevent embers from rising into the trees or dry vegetation. If you see the wind stirring up embers, play it safe and put the fire out. 
  • In a state park campground, only build campfires in the existing fire ring in your campsite. Fire rings are placed in areas with buffer zones and away from vegetation. 
  • Always keep plenty of water on hand to safely put out the campfire. Douse the flames with water and stir the embers to make sure everything is wet. The stirring step is important: ash and wood debris often maintain heat. Repeat these steps until the fire no longer emits heat.
  • Beach campfires should be on open sand and away from driftwood or vegetation and use only natural wood, rather than pallets or anything else that might have hidden nails or screws. Slowly pour water on your beach fire to put it out. Pouring water too quickly can cause hot sand to fly up. Don’t use sand to put out a beach fire. Covering the fire with sand will insulate the coals, keeping them hot enough to burn someone hours or days later. 
  • For propane fire rings, follow the same safety precautions you would with a log-based campfire. The use of propane fire rings may be restricted depending on local conditions.
  • Make sure everyone in your campsite is familiar with campfire safety, including children. Always keep an eye on your campfire; many accidental fires are started because campers left their fire unattended for “just a minute.” 

While lightning often sparks wildfires, human remain the top culprit.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.