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Of Woods and Words: The Central Campfires

In the past week, firefighting personnel in these parts have put out at least three out-of-control campfires
In the past week, firefighting personnel in these parts have put out at least three out-of-control campfires

FinalCut_0WW8172011.mp37.6 MB

Back in the days of Greek mythology when the Titan Prometheus gave fire to the mortals, Zeus tied him to a rock for the eagles to eat his liver out. Because Zeus was Zeus and all mighty and stuff, he arranged it so that Prometheus’ liver grew back every day so the punishment could be repeated over and over and over again. Seems like kind of harsh punishment for merely showing us lowly humans what a little spark was capable of.

On the other hand, maybe Zeus knew what he was doing.

In the past week, firefighting personnel in these parts have put out at least three out-of-control campfires. Although evidence of fire’s powerful and, at times, uncontrollable nature surrounds us here at the end of Gunflint Trail in the Ham Lake wildfire area, it seems that the human race’s relationship with fire is destined to be troubled.

For one thing, we approach fire with a certain sense of entitlement. In a prior job, the question I got asked almost as often as “Where are the moose?” was “Any campfire restrictions on?” For many people, nothing puts the kibosh on Northwoods outdoor fun faster than the inability to have a campfire. “It’s just not camping then,” people say of evenings in the woods sans campfire.

While Smokey Bear’s message of “Only you can prevent wildfires” seems like old news by now, our favorite black bear’s words often go unheeded. Although there’s a sense that everyone should know better, every day campfires are built outside of fire rings and left to smolder after half-hearted attempts to extinguish them. No wonder Prometheus was hung out to dry. We just can’t handle this fire stuff.

Maybe because we teeter so much between controlling fire and fire controlling us, things can really escalate quickly with fire. One minute it’s all roasting marshmallows and gooey s’mores. The next minute someone’s got a can of gasoline in their hand and threatening to pour it on the fires to “see how big the flames’ll get.” It’s only a matter of time before the brandishing of flaming logs begins and a small portion of the forest burns down.

We need to view fire as the gift the Greeks claim it was, rather than something we’re entitled to. If we gave fire the true respect it deserves, we’d probably have some pretty bored wildland firefighters every August.

There’s a reason fire rings, campfire restrictions and all sorts of other “no fun” fire principles like “don’t play with matches” are in place. We have to be vigilant when our fires are burning and we must ensure we put our fires out dead. Before you call it a night, throw on one more bucket of water than you think the fire needs to be out and give those ashes a good stir.

As summer makes its final stand, there’s no reason why we can’t celebrate the fleeting golden days sharing the stories and roasting wienies in the glow of a campfire. But in these August days, usually one of the driest times of the summer, it’s also time for common sense and small campfires. Let’s make sure this summer doesn’t go out in a true “blaze” of glory.

Airdate: August 24, 2011

Photo courtesy of Dawn Huczek via Flickr.