How to help prevent wildfires when camping

Some of you may be planning a camping or hiking trip as the weather gets warmer. You’re being asked to keep wildfire safety top of mind.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, nearly 9 out of 10 wildfires nationwide are caused by people.

The government agency’s data from 2010-2020 indicate that local fires in the D.C. area were even more likely to be human-caused. During that period, 95% of wildfires in Virginia, 96% of fires in Maryland and 94% of fires in D.C. were human-caused.

Patty Cormier, director of the Maine Forest Service, told WTOP that the top three causes are campfires that have escaped, debris fires and equipment fires.

“When you’re done with the fire you have to put it out, then put it out again, then check it again,” she said.

Some prevention tips:

  • When building a fire use existing rings, scrape away litter and other burnable material and have a shovel and bucket of water ready.
  • When extinguishing a fire, use lots of water. If you do not have water, stir dirt or sand into the embers with a shovel to bury the fire. Use the shovel to scrape any remaining sticks and logs to remove any embers. Continue adding water, dirt or sand, and stir with a shovel until all material is cool.
  • Never leave a fire unattended or start one on a windy day.
  • Always check local camping and fire restrictions.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good working order, watch for sparks and park in gravel areas if possible.

A step by step campfire safety guide is available at the Smokey Bear website.

Cormier said conditions have become more extreme because of climate change.

“We used to be able to look at past data and predict what’s going to happen in the future with respect to fires, and we can’t necessarily do that as much anymore.”

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Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin is an anchor/reporter for WTOP. She started her career in New York City as a local TV reporter and has since covered foreign affairs and national politics as a Washington correspondent. She also anchored a nightly news show for an international network.

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