The stripping of burnable material from campsites and their surroundings and the proliferation of fire scars has led to ‘fuel stove only’ areas in many popular walking and ski touring locations. Campfires are banned in these areas and portable stoves are the only method of cooking or heating permitted. Although many conservationists warmly support this policy, others argue that the safety, warmth, morale boosting and group bonding advantages of a campfire should not be ignored. This denies the fact that a portable stove can do almost everything achieved by a fire. If the use of fires is to survive in a future of increasing park use, their impact needs to be minimised. Stoves should be used when and wherever possible and fires reserved for emergencies, special occasions or forests adapted to regular burning.
Fires should be restricted to fireplaces constructed by land managers or built in accordance with the regulations for the area concerned. Fires should be small, be kept burning for only as long as needed and then be thoroughly extinguished. Burn only the easy to collect, long dead, fallen timber. Dead timber is an important part of the natural environment, providing home and shelter to many species of small mammals, ground-nesting birds, reptiles and invertebrates.
In desert and semi-desert, it takes a very long time for timber to build up, and in high use areas only a very short time for all dead timber to be burnt. Much of the drier country should be treated as ‘fuel stove only’ areas. Save on weight and leave axes and saws at home. In areas of little use, dig a small trench, carefully removing the top layer for later replacement. The cold ash should be dispersed and the site of the fire returned to its previous condition. Consider sharing your fire with other parties, as this will reduce scarring and improve networking within the outdoor-user community.
When camping close to roads or on base camps, if it really is necessary to have a fire, bring firewood from home.