You will recall that I went on my first ever moose hunt in early October. It turned out to be a beautiful clear-skied, seven-day river trip – without the moose – and so I prefer to think of it as a moose conservation trip.
One day, while drifting down the river, we could see smoke emanating from above the river bank in the distance. It looked like a campfire – but there was no boat.
It was an ominous sign that was, in fact, an ominous situation.
A small forest fire had developed on the bank of the Stewart River, just downstream from Scroggie Creek. It was clear that it had started from a campfire. The bank was high, about ten feet up from the river. A beautiful vantage point to call for moose and boil up some tea. But not such a great spot for a campfire. The ground was covered in a thick layer of old spruce needles and moss and the spruce trees were densely packed.
It looked like the campfire had been buried, rather than doused. Which might be understandable considering you would have had to haul water up that steep ten foot high bank. But making it, fundamentally, not a great spot for an open fire.
The campfire, which had not been properly extinguished, had spread. When we arrived, a ground cover of about 20 x 30 feet was burning – many areas hot and smoking, some areas open flame. Tree roots and the bases of tree trunks were charred.
It took us two to three hours of hard work to contain that fire. We made a fire break around the edge, digging with our boots down through the moss to dirt level, pushing the combustibles towards the centre of the burn and away from tree trunks and roots. Gerard chain-sawed and removed a dozen trees, many standing dead, from the burning area so that they wouldn’t burn through and fall, adding fuel to the fire.
The crashing of trees seemed to have caught the attention of a bull moose on the other side of the river who started banging on trees himself. Unfortunately, it never lured him out of the cover of the forest. He must have thought we were quite the mighty bull and chose to stay away.
We emptied a plastic tub that held our food and hauled tub after tub of water up the 10 foot bank to douse the perimeter , the base of the trees and the areas still smoking.
That night we camped upstream and the next morning we checked on it again. A few warm areas continued to smolder, so we hauled up more tubs of water until the ground was no longer hot to the touch.
It seems we succeeded.
It was a good reminder of the camping axiom from my youth: the campfire’s not out till it’s cold and out.
We may not have bagged a moose, but we did help prevent a forest fire.
In the words of the forest fire prevention folk, the best way to make sure your campfire doesn’t spread, even if you think it has died down completely:
Soak It. Stir It. Soak It Again.
Let the fire burn down before you plan on putting it out. Spread the embers within the fire pit, then add water or loose dirt, and stir.
Expose any material still burning. Add more water and stir again until you can no longer see smoke or steam. Do not bury your fire as the embers may continue to smoulder and can re-emerge as a wildfire.
Repeat until your campfire is cool to the touch.
If your fire is out, you should not be able to feel any heat from the ashes.