Dry, windy weather could cause campfire dangers

CROWLEY'S RIDGE STATE PARK (KAIT)- It's hot, dry, and windy outside. That's a bad combination when it comes to fire prevention.

With Memorial Day this weekend, there will be a lot of people in campgrounds around the state. Unwatched campfires could lead to big fires.

Crowley's Ridge State Park is a favorite for campers. Park Interpreter Heather Runyan says they are careful about fires.

"The campers do a pretty good job of policing themselves on what should and should not be done." Runyan said. "We do put up notices during burn bans so people know they cannot use wood fires in the fire rings."

Meghan Richenberger and her family spent Wednesday night at the park and had a campfire with their children.

Richenberger, "We made sure it was in the ring. We made sure we used small enough sticks to stay in the ring and not fall over and of course we watched it the whole time it was burning."

With high winds and dry underbrush the park is a tinderbox.

"Pine needles from this winter that fell." Said Runyan. She showed me a patch under the poison Ivy. "We also still have amazingly a lot of deadwood on the ground from the ice storm that came through a few years back."

"What other steps does the park take?" I asked.

Runyan replied, "We do proscribed burns when we can to try and thin out some of the fuel load so that helps. And we also try and educate the people that come into the park on safe practices on what you should and should not do."

I watched as a couple of the maintenance workers scraped out ashes from a fire pit near the picnic area. The fire pits are cleaned at least once a week, more if use is high.

Driving around the campground we came across a recently vacated campground. I noticed smoke still rising so Heather and I walked down to the pit. What we found were two logs, smoldering in the wind.

The logs were too big for the pit and within a couple of feet of the dry underbrush, well within spark range. The winds had fanned up the embers and both logs had flames licking on the wood. If one of these had burned through it could have rolled down the hill into the timber.

Runyan said this is a sign of a hasty departure. "People start to leave, they think their fire is out but they don't throw any dirt on it or water."

Runyan says people don't realize the threat a fire in this park can have and mean to the surrounding area.

With smoke curling around here Runyan looked around. "This park is one surrounded by private property with houses on it. We get a fire out here it's not just going to harm the park it could really affect the local community. "

Runyan grabbed an old sprayer bottle from a nearby shed and extinguished the logs. They will be removed later. This was a perfect example of how a simple camping trip could end in a disaster.

Runyan said this had happened last week and a log had burned through and started a small fire that was quickly extinguished. "But" she said, "Honestly we've never had a wildfire since I have been here which is a little over six years now."

They would like to keep it that way. If you have a camp fire you need to keep a shovel and bucket close by and never leave your campfire unattended. Also make sure before you leave your campsite, douse the ashes a couple of times just to make sure.

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