Campfire Enclosure Solution


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Pre-fabricated metal fire enclosure in our private campground.

Pre-fabricated metal fire enclosure in our private campground.

Drought weather combined with overgrown forests full of tinder-dry beetle kill conifers create another high wildfire season in Colorado. Already, thousands of acres have burned or are burning. The situation is scary dangerous. As a result, Gunnison County (where WildSnow Field HQ is located), issued a fire ban effective June 24.

Excerpt from Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, Resolution 2013-13
Stage One fire restrictions for all of unincorporated Gunnision County until further notice:

1. Open fires, including agricultural burning, wood or charcoal fires, and the burning of trash or debris.
2. Campfire outside of designated campgrounds. Exception: campfires permitted in designated campgrounds and recreation areas in permanent constructed fire grates.
3. Use of fireworks or explosives.
4. Smoking outdoors, unless in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren and has been cleared of all flammable material.
5. The following activities are permitted: cooking on manufactured charcoal, liquid fuel and propane grills; campfires with flame length not exceeding two feet in height in pre-fabricated concrete/metal fire enclosures in established campgrounds (USFS, NPS and privately owned); prefabricated concrete/metal fire enclosures on private property
6. Rotary club of Gunnision, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte professional fireworks displays allowed.

While super important and necessary for public safety, the resolution bans fires regardless of elevation. Therefore, even if you’re near treeline, on a rocky scree pile which is common in Colorado’s backcountry, you can’t build a nice little campfire. Likewise, this time of year the WildSnow Field HQ environment (8,800 feet in a lush green aspen forest, in the middle of a clearing) is not a fire hazard worthy of an outright ban, though it could be later after a hot dry summer.

So we came up with a way to create a law abiding steel fire enclosure that’s appropriate for our high altitude early-summer environment without blowing our budget on an expensive patio unit from the local garden shop.

The solution: culvert coupling ring. A heavy duty galvanized steel 48″ round ring is available for about $75 (or smaller 36″ for $50). Modification is of course an appealing part of the process. The enclosure is two feet high, so it needs ventilation holes. Lou considered kneeling and paying homage to his electric drill. But his redneck gene began throbbing and out came the .357 Mag. Always nice to take the opportunity to do some target shooting. In the future, if officials tell us we need some sort of grate cover we can easily pre-fabricate. But in our situation, at our elevation in a large green clearing, we’re confident our 24 inch high steel enclosure is plenty safe so long as the enclosed fire sticks to the 24″ flame limit in the ban.

We’ll of course continue to be careful with fire, keeping them small and further modifying our enclosure if officials tell us to. More, when things do get dry and scary at our location, we’ll be smart and stop enjoying campfires till conditions are less touchy. It’s just too dangerous to do otherwise. (Also, as anyone should do when enjoying a campfire, we always have water, shovel, and a fire extinguisher at hand.)

shooting

Shooting the vent holes. As the WildSnow Girls say, 'A woman can accomplish more with a gun than with a tiara.'

Comments

29 Responses to “Campfire Enclosure Solution”

  1. Ralph June 27th, 2013 11:16 am

    We keep a wire mesh over our urban fire pit to keep embers and such from flying away.

  2. Lou Dawson June 27th, 2013 11:26 am

    Thanks Ralph, that’s probably what we’ll do if it becomes necessary, or if the officials tell us to. At this time that’s not necessary, as at our elevation it’s all green, and we’re in a green aspen forest, in a large clearing…

    Once everything gets dry (later summer/fall) we’ll probably quit building fires.

    One little mistake can result in a world of hurt, so I’m into being pretty careful.

    Lou

  3. Bill June 27th, 2013 12:06 pm

    Hey
    What’s with the bullet holes?

  4. Bill June 27th, 2013 12:07 pm

    oops
    did not read

  5. Lou Dawson June 27th, 2013 12:18 pm

    I should have lied and said some redneck shot up our fire pit (grin).

  6. Olaf Metal June 27th, 2013 9:54 pm

    I think one did.

  7. Mykhaylo June 28th, 2013 3:51 am

    Personally I use small afterburning wood stove instead of campfire. The stove is two-walled stainless, with CPU fan grill at the bottom (for wood to stay put) and a set of holes just below the “crown” (on which the pot rests) to afterburn the smoke. It has side tube w/metal fan working on 2 AAA batteries to blow air between the walls, so one half of it blows uprising from behind CPU grill into main compartment, and the other half blows thru holes, afterburning smoke and effectively rising efficiency TTM.

    All it leaves behind is small pile of ashes and burned-out grass in diameter similar to gas canister. One pair of AAAs is sufficient for like 2-3 weeks, idunno, maybe more… Burns wet sticks, too, in “turbo-mode” ;-)

    Photos available per request.

    Oh, and 5 mins per 1L of boiling water, given the wind is not too strong!

  8. Lou Dawson June 28th, 2013 5:41 am

    M, I’ve always been intrigued by those. Got a link for the maker of the one you like? Lou

  9. Joe June 28th, 2013 11:38 am

    Nice shooting Lisa!

    Just be careful of those ricochets! :wink:

  10. Jack June 28th, 2013 1:11 pm

    Lou,

    The following site has a variety of wood fuel options (kettle stoves, homemade turbo stoves, commercial lightweight folding stoves, etc.)
    http://zenstoves.net/Wood.htm

    Not really shilling for them, they just sparked my interest.

  11. andyc June 28th, 2013 2:02 pm

    Another alternative. We too have to worry about wildfires. We live in the woods. And as a former-forest-fire-fighter I’ve seen how easy it is to start conflagrations. So when we decided we wanted an outdoor fire pit, I was glad we saw an outdoor fireplace for sale. It has the following salient features: the legs hold the base about the river rock it sits on and the base has about 2 inches of airspace between it and the bottom of the wood burning section fully insulating the heat from the ground and, of course, the fire itself which can set below ground roots smoldering–I’ve seen those move 10 feet or more and then catch a stump on fire. If there are no trees or stumps nearby (or the pit/fireplace is well insulated by rock, no problem. The wood burning section has a solid top with a mini-chimney (4 inches, with its own small cover) that prohibits sparks or embers from being convected upward. The burning chamber has 4 sides each with a removable metal screen that can be used to trap embers that might otherwise be blown by the wind. The unnecessary ones can be removed for fire aesthetics or cooking or making smores. The fireplace is black matte steel and hasn’t begun to rust after 8 years of PNW rain and snow. There are a variety of these outdoor fireplaces–some are clunky, ugly, or weird looking. We opted for a very simple one.

  12. Lou Dawson June 28th, 2013 4:00 pm

    Thanks Andy, all info we can add to this post will really help people. Our ground is safe for root fire travel, we’ve built two gigantic slash fires on the same spot over two years with no problems. But I’ve seen the root travel you speak of, scary. Above grade is the best option if you’re in doubt. Lou

  13. Joe John June 29th, 2013 10:24 am

    Looks like the .357 made just the right sized holes.

  14. SR June 29th, 2013 10:38 am

    Interesting that they seem to ignore backpacking stoves in the ordnance. Reading it, it would seem propane and gas stoves are ok, just as for grills, but that alcohol and wood stoves like the http://bushbuddy.ca/index1.html are out, as would esbit and similar fuels be.

    Nice to see a common-sense approach to enjoying a campfire. I think we’re just genetically programmed to find an open fire a wholesome and restoring thing — and much of the year, even in dry parts of the west, there aren’t any issues with them so long as people use good judgment.

  15. Christian June 29th, 2013 11:37 am

    LOL – been visiting some fat-bike sites lately…and thought I was seeing a fat-bike rim being used as a fire enclosure.

  16. Joebob June 29th, 2013 12:54 pm

    Joe John, Joebob here, the mag made the exact correct sized holes but some of the shooters we’re flinching and hit the target a bit high. Joe

  17. Mykhaylo June 30th, 2013 12:36 pm

    Here’s that afterburning stove I’ve been talking about (but beware of automatic translator): http://goo.gl/1zk9v

    There seems to be some video on the right (didn’t checked).

  18. Njord Rota July 1st, 2013 12:50 pm

    Be careful out there, folks! I’m just getting done with the East Peak and West Fork fires. Something like 140,000+ acres destroyed and lives put at risk. It does not take much… our thoughts go out to our brothers in Arizona.

    Njord
    http://www.majesticheliski.com

  19. Lou Dawson July 1st, 2013 12:57 pm

    Njord, any more first-hand observations on West Fork? Was the defensible space around structures adequate, or downright ignored? Am trying to get a handle on why we’re still asking young men to die on these fires. Lou

  20. brian h July 2nd, 2013 12:13 pm

    I’m struggling with that as well. Forests that haven’t burned in over fifty years, filled with standing dead timber, along with helter skelter development. We don’t send people to build storm walls in the middle of hurricanes…

  21. Lou Dawson July 2nd, 2013 1:42 pm

    It’s complex, but natural cycle is fire, we suppressed it like fanatics for the last 50 years, the forest kept growing, then the fuel load increased, beetles hit places, trees are unnaturally close to each other, drought and warming hit, just overall ridiculous. In many places around here, more logging would have helped. But mainly they need to let more stuff burn, and people who want their houses to not burn need major defensible space as well as fire resistant design and materials. And in the end, during a bad event you have to be comfortable with your home or cabin getting burned to the ground. Lou

  22. Njord Rota July 2nd, 2013 3:38 pm

    Lou, a little of both… although the West Fork is going to burn out on it’s own now. The biggest worry now is tourists who want to get a really good/close look at the fires!

    Njord

    http://www.majesticheliski.com

  23. Lou Dawson July 2nd, 2013 5:26 pm

    Does anyone realize there might be a catch 22 to all this? They suppress fire near structures, which in turn allows the woodland near structures to become ever more dense and fuel loaded. Seems crazy. But Perhaps I’m not seeing the whole picture, no pretense here of being anything more than a gawker.

  24. Jack July 3rd, 2013 8:12 am

    Back to stoves, I ran across this the other day. “PowerPot Thermoelectric Generator”. Can’t tell if it is too geeky for words or a valuable tool for charging iPhone’s, etc. Promise is a 1.5L Al pot that will charge 5V @ 1A (max) while heating water.

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/1346/?cpg=54620454&msg_id=54620454&et_rid=937438183&linkid=54620454_headline_1346

  25. Lou Dawson July 3rd, 2013 9:05 am

    Jack, we tested for a possible review , really not that great and was not worth spending the time writing up a review. Might have very specific niche applications. The water boiling doesn’t put out much power and you have to have water sitting there boiling forever while you charge something. The stick burning stove requires keeping a small wood fire burning. It all just seemed like too much hassle for very little power.

  26. andyc July 4th, 2013 7:22 pm

    There has been a ton of research on the ecology fire in the western US and worldwide and a couple of tons of theorizing and postulating. I’ve read most of it. And written some of it. It really boils down to one major question: do you want to let it run “wild” or do you want to manage it to achieve some multiplicity of objectives. I put “wild” in quotes because there are no real fire “cycles”; there have been no weather-climate cycles since the last ice age (yes there are El Nino type oscillations); people have been influencing fire regimes in North America and the world since time immemorial. We know how to reduce the frequency of catastrophic wildfires, especially in the intermountain, Rocky Mountain, and southwest. We know all the factors contributing to loss of human property and life. We do not have the social cohesion necessary to implement rational management. This latest tragedy is especially mournful as weather models were forecasting what was to come see http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/. But it seems, as with all major issues facing us today, ideology over rides reason.

  27. SR July 5th, 2013 9:03 am

    In terms of defensible space, I do think some of the aesthetic preferences that cause issues around homes may be changing as a consequence of some of these recent fires. We know the nestled in woods “look” that can be a big problem, and can be even more a problem with wood decks and firewood stacked right next to the house. Housing code and insurance reform are also a big part of the picture, of course. The more open look and fire-resistant plantings of defensible space are different aesthetically, but can be equally nice.

  28. Lou Dawson July 5th, 2013 9:06 am

    Personally, I prefer the feeling of openness, sun and views.

  29. Teri Rawlings December 24th, 2013 2:45 am

    Thank you for the link Lou, I’ve been looking recently for some info on wood burning stoves and this is helpful.
    Where I live there is plenty of open land in front of my house (in Bulgaria) The problem we have is the dry grass everywhere so caution has to be top of the list when lighting any kind of fire.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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