Summer in Arizona means a few things. It means the perpetual presence of air conditioning and heat so extreme one can get burned on hot seatbelts and steering wheels. It means splashing around at swimming pools and water parks, and road trips to higher elevations to escape the heat.
Summer in the desert also doubles as fire season. Thanks to a scorcher of a summer in 2020, a nearly non-existent monsoon season last year — which ranked among the driest seasons in more than 100 years — and a winter season with little rainfall, the Arizona desert is primed for what could be a dangerous fire season. Officials have predicted this summer will pose a “severe” threat from wildfires.
As this article was published, more than 1,000 firefighters already were battling two devastating wildfires in the eastern part of Arizona — the Telegraph and Mescal fires affecting the areas of Globe and Miami.
Families preparing for long weekends of camping in the woods should prepare for campfire restrictions.
As outdoor enthusiasts, it is our responsibility to respect the land we’re using, which is why we need to view fire restrictions as a means to protect and conserve the spaces we love while preserving the safety of the people who live in the communities that are often threatened by the danger of wildfires.
And, as parents, we need to show our kids the importance of following the guidance of forestry officials, the proper way and place to build a fire and the responsible way of putting one out.
Fire restrictions are issued in three stages, and it helps to understand them.
Stage 1: This means that building or using a fire or campfire, charcoal or a wood stove, is not allowed outside of developed campsites and picnic areas. Fires are permitted within fire rings in developed sites, but not in undeveloped or dispersed areas.
Stage 2: This means that building or using a fire or campfire, charcoal or a wood stove, is not allowed even in developed campsites and picnic areas. Propane is permitted.
Closure: At this stage, public access to certain areas is altogether restricted.
If you’re ever curious about fire restrictions in the area you’re planning to visit, it’s easy to find out. Forestry officials release news of fire restrictions that can be found online with a quick search, and campgrounds may either update their websites with pertinent information or be able to answer questions either by phone or upon arrival. Please check, because humans are most often the cause of wildfires.
Last year, Arizona experienced one of its worst fire wildfire seasons in nearly a decade as nearly 1 million acres burned. Experts estimate that humans were responsible for 82 percent of the fires. The U.S. Department of the Interior, as cited by the Insurance Information Institute, reports 90 percent of fires are caused by humans.
So, Smokey was right all along. If we’re causing them, we’re the only ones who can prevent them. Yes, campfires are part of the camping experience. But alternatives do exist.
We came across battery-powered string lights at Walmart for about $5 last summer and tossed a strand into our go-bag so we’d have them whenever we head out. Although not rugged and wild, the lights are really cute and add a little ambiance when strung over hammocks or around a makeshift lounge area. We used them while up on the Rim and loved having a little twinkle while camping at Horseshoe Bend. We also learned one strand isn’t enough. Grab a couple if you want to give them a try.
If you are looking for light beyond headlamps while camping, consider packing a couple of lanterns. The light they provide more than makes up for the light offered by a campfire, and they’re portable! We love our solar-powered, collapsible lantern, and I personally have a soft spot for the vintage-inspired metal lanterns (think Little House on the Prairie) if you’re not limited on space. They’ll light any card game and lead the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, no sweat.
A propane campfire is not the same. It just isn’t, we know. But, it gets you safely close to being able to enjoy the nostalgia of a fire without the danger of wind-swept embers in a dry landscape. We came across the Little Red Campfire recently, and although we haven’t tried it, it looks like a reasonable stand-in for a real campfire, providing heat and ambiance at the same time.