We've been camping in various national parks, national forests and state parks in Nevada, Arizona and California for more than a month now, and have, for the most part, been enjoying it immensely. Most of the campgrounds have not only been beautiful, but been sparsely populated as well. When we did have neighbors, they were usually pleasant and quiet. One exception was over Memorial Day weekend, when the campground was full. Our neighbors were not only loud vocally, but ran their generator until 10 at night and had their radio blaring loud enough to be heard in the next national forest. It did make it easier knowing that in a couple days, those yahoos would be back at work and we'd have the forest to ourselves again.
Now that we are in the cooler regions of northern California and Nevada, we have a campfire almost every night. A nice crackling campfire is something we both especially enjoy. Tending a fire and prodding the logs until it's just right is both soothing and satisfying, and watching the flames is almost mesmerizing. Perhaps this comes from tribal memories passed down from our ancestors who depended on fires for protection from predators and for the warmth that a fire provided. Or maybe I just have subverted pyromaniac tendencies. Whatever the cause, I do enjoy a nice campfire.
In many places here in California, campers are required to have a fire permit. In some campsites, a permit is required for an open fire, while in others, one is required for any fire – even a propane camp stove. Since we planned to have lots of campfires, and we certainly intended to cook dinner most nights, I figured I should get one.
The campfire permit is free and can be obtained at most state or national ranger stations in California. It can also be obtained online at http://www.preventwildfireca.org/Campfire-Permit/. Since there was a McDonalds closer than a ranger station, I decided to go the online route.
To get the permit online, I was required to watch an educational video and then take an exam. I was glad I chose the online version – it would have been embarrassing to have taken the exam in a rangers' office and failed. I watched the video, even taking a few notes, and when I was sure I was ready, I took the exam.
Many of the questions were common sense, and others, like the proper way to douse a fire, were things I learned from my father or from my Boy Scout days. I did, however, learn a few new things. For example, I didn't know it was legally required to have a shovel on hand - we stopped at a Walmart and picked up a folding camp shovel. And while I knew it was necessary to have a cleared area around a campfire site, I didn't know the minimum area had to be five feet from any point of the fire. All in all, it was worth getting the permit - and it will look nice hanging next to my permit to pump fuel in South Australia (a good story, BTW) and my boater's safety certificate that was required in Nevada when I once rented a boat.
It's since become quite apparent that not everyone bothered to learn the basics required to get a permit, however. Those loud neighbors of ours had a fire going the morning they left. Before leaving, they piled the last of their firewood into the fire ring, leaving it rip-roaring as they drove off. Maybe their way of tidying up? Guess they missed the part about never leaving a fire unattended. As we helped the campground host put it out, he just shrugged his shoulders and said it happens all the time. To prove his point, the next day when we had settled at another campsite, we discovered that the previous campers also hadn't bothered to douse their campfire. The coals were so hot that we were able to start a new fire just by piling kindling on the coals and blowing on it. A good stiff wind could certainly have blown those hot embers to the nearby, very dry pine needles.
In a state that has had more than its share of forest fires, you'd think people who enjoy spending time in the outdoors would be more attuned to fire safety. But then, what would I have to grouse about now that I can't complain about inconsiderate boaters in an anchorage or yachties who don't have a clue about anchoring safely?