To Be or Not To Be a Knucklehead – Good Campfire Etiquette

Wednesday, Mar 07, 2018 at 09:22

17 South

I appreciate this is an adversarial title… but after the rubbish camping efforts I’ve seen, being polite about the questionable decisions exercised by some campers is long gone by the wayside…

It was balmy afternoon on the Madigan Line – I had just left Munga Thirri National Park and crossed the border into the NT. I was looking very much forward to settling down for the day at Camp 17.

I crested the last dune before the camp – it was going to be a beauty I could feel it.
And it was… a beauty, except for a rather large and very recently burnt out area.

I trundled down to Camp 17 to investigate further. The fire burn led directly away from camp, up the side of the dune and back down again where the wind changed direction and drove it back towards camp. This was no random bushfire – that was obvious. Someone had lost control of their campfire.

A small moment of amusement because I can just imagine the knuckleheads hopping up and down, crapping themselves as they lost control of their fire, the temporary sigh of relief when the fire seemed to slow down, then more knucklehead hopping when it changed direction and headed back towards camp.

But they were exceptionally lucky that day… the wind change drove the fire back towards camp and the Madigan Line (track) lay between them and the main camp area forming a fire break leaving it nowhere to go and burn itself out.

I often wonder whether they witnessed this, or did they just panic and split?

But really really disappointing because a little bit of know-how, smarts and commonsense can avoid knucklehead behaviour and idiocy like this and what potentially could become a major bushfire and real danger to other travellers on the track.

We all love a good campfire, and I prefer to cook on a fire than a stove any day so here’s some commonsense tips on good camp fire etiquette and avoid being a knucklehead.

Before I do anything – I always ascertain wind direction keeping the fire downwind of my camping location. This is for safety in case something does go wrong; me, my gear and vehicle are upwind and also for comfort - I’m not sitting in a camp full of drifting smoke and ash.

Fortunately our outback winds are highly predictable and the morning wind and the afternoon wind are normally within 90 degrees of each other so selecting a fire site next to your camp that will be relatively smoke free is pretty straightforward.

Make sure your selected site is free from ground cover and there’s a nice clear area in which to establish your fire site. This might mean you need to get your shovel to clear away sticks and grass and other refuse. But that’s good ‘cause you’re gonna need your shovel close at hand anyway.

Reuse existing fire places, instead of creating new ones.

I often see signs of big bonfire type fires and I wonder why – they’re massively inefficient, inherently dangerous and leave an ugly scar on a campsite
I prefer to make my fires compact, efficient and safe.

Lucky you kept your shovel close at hand!
There are many good reasons for this.
• They create a natural containment area for the fire.
• They’re more efficient fuel burners, using less wood to keep the fire going.
• They retain heat more efficiently and are great for cooking whether you’re using a camp oven or BBQ plate.
• They retain excellent heat overnight keeping coals hot making it easy to rekindle in the morning
• The dirt dug out (in a nice tidy pile) next to the pit is a great fire retardant.
• Keep the shovel close and if you have spare water, a jerry at hand could be… handy.
• And best of all – when you leave the next day, after you’ve removed your aluminum and metal products to your rubbish bag, you can bury the fire and cover it up like you were never there…

Instead of pillaging the campsite for wood – collect en route

I always cut wood to fit the fire and/or fire pit. This is a mandatory task and I always leave time enough to do it. Dragging in a log and dropping in the fire leaving 2 meters hanging out is just not on. That’s simply laziness.

I usually make three neat piles at least 1.5M back from my pit. Kindling, mid-size, and log pieces alongside my shovel and/or water jerry. Pedantic maybe, but a tidy fire site is much more controllable. (the proximity ofwood in the photos for framing purposes only!)

Because I carry 18V tools, impact wrench, grinder, drill etc. I have added an 18V Recipro Saw to my collection. Compact, robust, easy to store and capable of cutting through 25cm diameter logs quite efficiently. No need for chainsaws, handsaws, axes and the like. As it’s a demolition saw it will also cut through other materials like plastic and metal as well so it’s a very handy all round cutting tool. I run off a 5AMP hour battery and that’s usually good for 2/3 days of cutting wood.

Always dead wood lying down, not dead wood standing upright. While I appreciate this is not always possible, sometimes you need to walk a little further, and look a little harder. At the very least make a concerted effort.

Many campsites in the desert are also scarred by knuckleheads cutting down or cutting branches off the nearest dead tree.

I carry spare tongs for my fire-making activities; disposable gloves will do the trick as well. When I’m ready to build and light the fire I do a little lap of the campsite picking up after knuckleheads. Any burnable materials I can use to light my fire and make the camping area a little cleaner in the process.

My favourite knucklehead activity – a reasonable percentage of the camping population seem to be under the impression that ally and metal products burn. I’m delighted to spoil this –THEY DON’T!!!

So let’s not be knuckleheads and leave our canned and foil products in the fire.

I will flex the hard and fast rules here… but if you’re not going to carry it out, which you should, and you’re more than likely to leave it where it lays, which you shouldn’t, then please just burn it completely (note to reader….) it takes substantially longer to burn than paper or cardboard products.

When you know you’re leaving later that morning a raging inferno is not required to cook your bacon and eggs.

Be mindful of “turning” the fire down over the course of the morning.

This puts you in the best possible and timely position of making sure it is completely extinguished and buried before you leave.

Know what’s going on – if fire bans are in place, you need to heed them.

Don’t sigh and shake your head… this is a real problem. We already live in a nanny state, so lets not hand the authorities another excuse to exercise "commonsense" on our behalf because we can’t. You want to see the Simpson Desert and other places end up like the campground at Witjira? Crammed into a confined and fenced off space like a sardine can, overseen by rangers to make sure you behave with respect towards other campers and keep your campsite clean and tidy. Camps where fires are only permitted in designated areas and you have to drive 5kms to find firewood.

It’s time to lead the way and exercise duty of care over our outback – otherwise you can kiss the freedom of bush camping goodbye – if you can’t respect and look after place when you’re out and about then please do the rest of us a favour and stay home.

This is about preserving pristine environments for not only us but future generations as well – but there are a lot of selfish, inconsiderate, irresponsible, lazy and ignorant people determined to spoil it for everyone – and it’s time to take them to task.

So there you have it – that’s my fire business and there ain’t no rocket science going on here.

Only 2 main ingredients required...

Commonsense and Consideration.

Job’s done. Dinner’s made. Stoke the fire, sit back, enjoy a hot brew and wonder at the magnificence of the Milky Way.

Happy camping!

And this just blows my mind - it is the truth in B&W. I trekked the Victorian High Country in Jan this year. I pulled up at this lovely little spot on the Wonnagatta River to make camp. The previous occupants had not only left the site strewn with rubbish and toilet paper, no attempt had been made to extinguish the fire and it was coaling and smoking away completely abandoned and... this is the pièce de résistance - they had walked no further than 5m to take a dump. No hole digging just loud and proud right next to where they were eating and sleeping and on the banks of the river...

Needless to say I was completely dumbfounded - anyway after a few well ejected expletives, I got down the long handle, out with the gloves and tongs and went to work.


Wildling from the North
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