Trails for Tomorrow: Fire Safety

The Off-roaders Guide to Wildfire Prevention

Wildfire in our American public lands is a very real phenomenon. Causes of wildfire vary, sometimes caused by nature and sometimes caused by humans. Fire itself isn’t necessarily bad for the land, but it can be devastating for communities and our access to recreation. 

Many wildfires can be prevented. Accidents occur and there can be steep penalties, even when mistakes are made. We each hold responsibility to ensure our campfires don’t turn into wildfires, by being informed, and making caution decisions. Read on to hear some of our favorite fire safety tips. 

Know the Restrictions Before You Go

Smokey the Bear was born alongside the Wildfire Prevention Campaign in 1944 and remains the longest-standing public service announcement campaign in U.S. history.

Fire safety ain’t new! But it’s our job to understand fire regulations before we head out to the trails and abide by the laws.

WHAT TO DO:

  • Do some Googling of the public lands you’re planning to travel to. Check for seasonal fire updates, fire ban laws, and active fire information. 
  • Visit the land management office and ask for information. They’ll know! 
  • Pay attention to signs on the roads about fire danger levels and fire bans. 

Wildfire Prevention Tips

It’s easy to think that the sparks from your campfire or vehicle would never cause a wildfire. You’re not that guy.

But, you could be. It’s also easy to forget that many accidental fires are caused by vehicles throwing sparks on dry roads and campsites with tall grasses. Don’t assume your sparks won’t lead to disaster and take extreme caution with your campfires, gear, and routes, especially in the dry Western states.

WHAT TO DO:

  • Always carry a fire extinguisher in your rig! 
  • Never leave a campfire unattended.
  • In regards to campfires, bigger is not always better.
  • Never create your own fire ring, use an existing one to avoid creating additional impact on the land.
  • Embers can live in a fire pit for many hours. Drown them! 
  • Use a propane fire pit as an alternative to a campfire.
  • Cook on gas stoves rather than charcoal grills.
  • Do not drive over foliage and tall grasses in hot, dry climates. Actually, try to never do this.
  • Double check that trailer safety chains aren’t dragging to avoid creating sparks.
  • Make sure your rig is running well and be prepared to safely (and carefully!) repair or refuel in the backcountry if needed.  
  • And remember, DO NOT have a fire if there is a fire ban. End of story. 

Use onX Offroad’s App Fire Layer

Have you discovered that onX Offroad has a built-in fire layer in the App?

This shows the latest active wildfire perimeters straight from the National Interagency Fire Center so you know where to steer clear of and can make route decisions that could help keep you upwind of especially smoky areas. Note that there are often temporary road closures near active fires to protect the public and let wildland firefighters do their jobs. Watch for signs and read carefully—these can be fast-changing zones! 

WHAT TO DO:

  • Click on the Active Wildfire Layer button and zoom in! Check your area and also follow up with the local wildfire authorities to learn more.

Fire Is Natural

We often think of all wildfires as a horrible thing. But it’s a natural part of a forest ecosystem lifecycle. Necessary even.

Fire helps clear out dead litter on forest floors and allows nutrients to return to the soil, creating new growth for many plant species. Some plants in fire-prone areas even require fire (direct or indirect) to germinate and reproduce. Animals can also benefit from this forest refresh, as new growth brings new food sources. So, it’s not all bad. But humans are further developing communities in forested areas and fire is suppressed for long periods of time. Furthermore, drought plagues the west and insect populations like the Mountain Pine Beetle are thriving and causing mass tree death. This combination can make wildfire scary.

WHAT TO DO:

  • Remind yourself that you DO NOT want to be the cause of wildfire. Leave that to the lightning storms.

Pro Tip:

“Stay out of the way of active wildfire scenes. You can endanger your life and the lives of first responders by trying to get a closer look. Use the onX Offroad Active Wildfire Layer to avoid wildfires. Never fly a drone near an active wildfire, this can ground air support operations.”

Melissa Reudelhuber, Social Media Manager — onX Offroad

Campfire use usually goes right, until it goes very, very wrong.

Thanks for doing your part by staying informed, acting with caution, and following the rules and regulations of the public lands you’re camping on. Burned trails can mean a big loss of access for the offroader. Three cheers to preserving our trails so we can Go Farther, Go Forever. 

And as always, thanks to our friends at Tread Lightly! or setting the standard for responsible recreation. Join today!

onX Offroad: The Essential gps app for off-roading
7-Day Free Trial
330

becky.marcelliano

Becky is a lover of wild open spaces, human connection, and creating things. She's worked as a wilderness guide, environmental educator, art teacher, and marketing strategist. Driven by personal growth, community development, and taking the high road, she's a positive force for fostering change and do-goodery in those around her.