HELENA – The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) reports that 53% of wildfires in 2017 were caused by humans.
Now, the agency wants to remind people to completely put out their campfires and always monitor the fire while it’s burning.
“Campfires can become out of control in seconds basically,” said DNRC Helena Unit Manager John Huston. “It just takes one ember to blow it out of the ring or the flames to get pushed over by a strong enough wind out to tall grass outside and things can get happening very quickly and spread to be some very damaging fire.”
Huston said human-caused wildfires, in general, are less destructive but take resources that could be used elsewhere, "they’re usually started with more people around and we have that risk of danger for people."
The DNRC is offering a few tips to make sure a campfire doesn’t become out of control.
When building a campfire, people should make sure there are no potentially combustible materials nearby and use an existing campfire ring if possible.
Once done with the fire, pick apart the larger pieces of wood so that they’re not in one large pile. After that, thoroughly dose the fire pit with water and use a tool like a shovel to turn soil over the ashes.
People should then cautiously check the fire pit by hand to see if it’s warm and requires more water. After three dumps of water and stirring the soil, the fire pit should be cool to the touch.
DNRC Engine Boss Robert Solberg has 11 years of wildland fire experience and believes one of the best things a person can do is set a good example for others.
“Maybe set an example if you have an opportunity with your children and you’ve got just a simple hot dog fire in your backyard,” said Solberg. “Maybe it’s a good time to call all the kids over and kind of reiterate what Smokey says about making sure your campfires are out.”
Solberg added that if a campfire isn’t put out correctly, the remaining embers can smolder, sometimes for days, and then start up a new uncontrolled fire.