Campers looking to have a fun holiday weekend got a little too much excitement when their campfire ring nearly started a wildfire on Labor Day.
North Custer Rural Fire District Chief Larry Garey said a combination of factors that no one could have predicted started the fire at a Challis Hot Springs campsite. The campers thought they put their fire out, but the metal fire ring remained hot enough to burn a cottonwood root in the ground. High winds intensified the situation and ignited the smoldering tree, Garey said.
It’s important for firefighters to respond to cottonwood fires quickly, Garey said. The dry trees burn easily.
“We had to chop her down, split her open and extinguish the fire inside,” Garey said of the cottonwood. The six responding firefighters had the fire out in about two hours.
Tree fires are dangerous because they’re slow, Garey said. The campers had no idea they ignited a brush fire until the wind picked up, he said, hours after they thought they had extinguished their campfire. Until visible flames ignite, at which point it might be too late, Garey said fires like this are unpredictable.
To extinguish a campfire, Garey said it’s important to drown the fire and mix the soil with a shovel. Mixing the water, soot and dirt makes sure that all flammable materials in the fire ring get wet and don’t ignite later.
According to Garey and other local fire chiefs, campfires getting out of control has been a problem this year. Most of the wildfires started in Idaho this summer were caused by humans, and many of those incidents were due to improperly extinguished campfires.