6-17-2018 Safety Blip

5 minutes, less time than it takes to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks. That is as much notice as a friend of mine got to pack up his life and evacuate from the Black Forest Fire. Look around yourself. In 5 minutes can you identify everything important to you, let alone load it in a vehicle and drive away from the rest? Can you make that decision of what is critical and what to walk away from? Of what has real value and what can be replaced or can live only in memory? Are you comfortable making someone else make that choice?

In 2002 the Hayman Fire burned its way to the largest wildfire in the state of Colorado. Caused by careless human action. In 2012 the Waldo Canyon fire became the most destructive in Colorado history threatening and destroying our communities. Suspected human caused. In 2013, one year later, the Black Forest fire surpassed Waldo becoming even more destructive. Human caused.

Campfires pose one of the most destructive risks to our national forests yet so many times we find smoldering fires left unattended or improperly extinguished or giant bonfires surrounded by people on windy days with no way to fight the fire in sight. Many of the fire sites we see have duff, ground cover and other combustible materials right up to the edge of the fire. Sparks and embers from a fire can travel several feet from a fire in no wind, and in the winds associated with Waldo sparks and embers were traveling for miles igniting fires all the way across Rampart Reservoir.

Basic campfire safety and fire ban awareness is a must if you are going to lite one. Start with choosing a site that is away from trees, logs bushes and other sources of fuel. Use existing fire sites where possible and safe. Your choice of site should be such that when your fire is done the next visitor to the area never knows it was there. While it is tempting to build a fire right at the base of a large rock the smoke from the fire will stain the rock. Additionally you will be warmer if you leave enough space for yourself between the fire and the rock. Once you have identified a location, prepare the area. Clear the ground under and around your fire of debris that might combust. In many cases this means scraping the ground down to the dirt. Save the removed material to spread over the site when done to leave no trace. Collect rocks to make a fire ring, noting where they came from so you can return them. Keep your fire small. Remember it will burn to a height three times the stack of fuel, and the taller and larger your fire the more susceptible it is to forces outside your control. A good rule of thumb is any fire should be no larger than the minimum necessary to accomplish the task. When you are done with the fire drown it, stir the ashes looking for hot embers, drown it again, feel it and if you are willing to put your hand in it then bury it. It will take gallons of water more than you expect to effectively extinguish a fire. If the fire feels hot or smells smoky it is still alive and any breeze can reignite it. Burying a fire, while better than abandoning it, will allow it to smolder underground for a long time potentially igniting roots and other materials.

Be aware of and follow current burn bans and before you lite it be prepared to fight it!

There are many times on scouting excursions or clean ups Focus on the Forest has come across smoldering campfires. Since many times we are first on scene and response times for authorities can be minutes to hours once we get to somewhere we can make a call, we have identified some members in each chapter who carry a basic campfire response kit in their vehicle. The kit usually includes water, buckets, hose, shovel and a steel rake. This allows us to address any abandoned campfires at the time we find them without losing precious minutes as whole worlds can change in 5 minutes.

5-6-2018 Safety Blip

As the weather gets warmer our season picks up and we try to have more clean ups we have to keep in mind that we need to stay hydrated when out in the forest. At the elevations we work at it is easy to not be aware of how much we are sweating. The nature of our work also makes it easy to leave our water in the car because “it is just a little trash” and the next thing we know we are miles from the vehicle with several heavy trash bags and a splitting headache. Proper hydration is key to being able to keep working. It helps to prevent headaches and cramping while picking up trash. We encourage everyone to carry a refillable water bottle with them whenever they are out in the forest. At every cleanup we have jugs of water to refill water bottles and for anyone who forgot a water bottle we try to have bottles of water that people can refill.

4-18-2018 Safety Blip

While we all want to help keep our forests clean we want to do so in a safe manor. Any time we are out in the forest we are exposed to risks that can become serious if not handled properly. One such risk is becoming separated from the group and getting lost. On Sunday we had a volunteer become separated from the group. Luckily when he got back to the parking area and realized everyone was gone his Eagle Scout training kicked in and he did not panic. Instead he walked back into town.

To prevent such incidents in the future we will have set start and end times for events and a central booth that will have someone at it for the duration of the event. We also encourage our volunteers to always maintain visual and/or auditor contact with at least one other member of the group. Also, good backcountry principles still apply. Let other members of the group know where you are going, know your abilities and limits, and frequently turn around and look at your back-trail because it always looks different than what you just walked through.

Your Focus on the Forest team!