Forum Index » General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion » Alcohol Stoves a fire hazard?


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Chad Miller
(chadnsc)

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Alcohol Stoves a fire hazard? on 02/08/2012 15:53:47 MST Print View

Over on hiker group for the Superior Hiking Trail several of us where discussing ways for the average backpacker to lighten up their pack weight. Out of no where someone posted this up:

"Just a note folks...........while alcohol stoves are nice to have due to their weight, please be aware that there is a huge fire hazard using them, as an alcohol flame is just about impossible to see, and if it gets away from you, there is NO chance you will be able to contain it. Please, think safety first so others who hike behind you can enjoy the great scenery you are now. :)"

After a bit of skepticism on my part the same person posted this up:

"Alcohol stove fires are a real hazard out on the Pacific Crest Trail. Having been a member of the listserv on that particular trail now for many years, it seems that at least once a season someone starts a fire out on the trail, with an alcohol stove. Not to say others haven't, but it seems the homemade stoves get the most attention for some reason. It's been enough of a problem that they are banned on some sections of the trail during fire season. Of course, there is controversy over whether the park regs in some areas include alcohol stoves or not. I try to avoid the politics of the whole deal. I'm just stating what I have seen myself, nothing more."


Now I've never hiked on the PCT so I was wondering how prevalent fires are due to improper use of alcohol stoves or is this just an over exaggeration?

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Alcohol fire danger on 02/08/2012 15:58:21 MST Print View

I haven't heard of any Sierra fires started by alcohol stoves, nor have I encountered any restrictions on them, including here in southern California's very fire-restricted national forests and wilderness areas.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Alcohol Stoves a fire hazard? on 02/08/2012 16:00:12 MST Print View

Not that accidents don't happen, but you'd have to be incredibly lax in attention and technique to start a forest fire with .5 oz of contained alcohol. Sounds overblown to me.

Chris C
(cvcass) - MLife

Locale: State of Jefferson
careless on 02/08/2012 16:11:40 MST Print View

Alcohol stoves are a real fire hazard when used carelessly, but so are other stoves as well.

The issue comes from knocking over an unstable alcohol stove and sending near invisible, burning fuel flowing across the ground. There have been several fires on the PCT started by hikers using alcohol stoves. The specifics of what stoves that were being used is unknown.

Chad Miller
(chadnsc)

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Re: Alcohol Stoves a fire hazard? on 02/08/2012 16:13:40 MST Print View

Very interesting.

I told the woman who posted about the alki stoves the same thing. I wonder how people determined what type of stove (alki, white gas, canister) caused the fires?


I remember someone posting some pictures a few years back of scorch marks caused by alcohol stove used atop wooden picnic tables but other than that I've never heard of anything like massive fires from alki stoves.

I suppose I should take what this person was saying with a grain of salt. I mean she did go on to say that the Double Rainbow tent was great for winter use and something about Henry telling her personally that the DR would withstand 6-9" of snow loading no problem. :/

Edited by chadnsc on 02/08/2012 16:16:41 MST.

Chad Miller
(chadnsc)

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Re: Alcohol Stoves a fire hazard? on 02/08/2012 16:18:28 MST Print View

I should add that I've been using an alcohol stove (Caldera Cone) for many years now and never once had any type of potential problem or near miss when it came to using it.

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife
Re: Alcohol Stoves a fire hazard? on 02/08/2012 16:24:25 MST Print View

The park services are not thrilled with them because you cannot just shut them off.

It's fire. There will be consequences if mis-handled.

Chad Miller
(chadnsc)

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Re: Re: Alcohol Stoves a fire hazard? on 02/08/2012 16:41:55 MST Print View

Yeah the miss handling was the point I kept trying to make with this woman, basically that like someone had said that if you mis-use any stove it can cause a fire.

As for alki stoves not being able to be turned off, not entirely true. With the right model you simply put a pot lit over the stove and it snuffs out the fire. I'm not sure about the models where you put the pot directly on the stove.


On a side note anyone ever see a jetboil that's been knocked over or not have a pot attached to the burner; FLAME THROWER!

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Alcohol fire danger on 02/08/2012 16:51:47 MST Print View

The burned area halfway between Snow Creek and Fuller Ridge on the PCT burned in 2010 because a hiker tipped over his alcohol stove.

The problem with the vast majority of alcohol stoves is that once you tip it over, there's little you can do because the fuel has already spilled out, which means you have to stop the fuel AND vegetation from burning.

Chad Miller
(chadnsc)

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Re: Re: Alcohol fire danger on 02/08/2012 16:57:57 MST Print View

Dang that sucks. How many acres was that?

How the heck do you not clear out an area for your stove, then manage to spill that much fuel to light up a forest fire?

Edited by chadnsc on 02/08/2012 16:58:43 MST.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Alcohol fire danger on 02/08/2012 17:13:35 MST Print View

>How the heck do you not clear out an area for your stove, then manage to spill that much fuel to light up a forest fire

Exactly! If I spilled my stove, the alcohol would maybe spread 6-8 inches tops. I always try to have a few feet of non-burnable ground around the stove. Im always right next to my alky and it's something I monitor very closely. As Eugene pointed out, it still can happen though. Watch your stove and keep burnable material away.

Alan Bradley
(ahbradley)
water? on 02/09/2012 14:35:55 MST Print View

Alcohol is miscible with water: why wouldn't you put the fire out? I've extinguished a stove under test with water.

Seems safer than canister or petrol stoves.

Edited by ahbradley on 02/09/2012 14:38:21 MST.

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
Fire danger on 02/09/2012 15:08:24 MST Print View

I wrote to the Forest Service bigwig during a fire ban last year stating the case for UL stoves being just as safe, if not safer, than other types of stoves. As a long time white gas stove user, I've seen some pretty scary things with white gas stoves. Far worse than a tipped over alky stove could do. And like someone mentioned earlier, I put any stove in a appropriate place. I'm primarily a wood user when I can. When there is a fire ban, I have to take a canister or white gas stove but I don't see a reason that alky stoves shouldn't be used. And especially esbit stoves. I think they are less of a danger than than white gas stoves, and to a lesser extent, even canister stoves.

And I say all this as someone who lives very close to areas where people are car camping and backpacking. Our house is about 5 miles north of the CT as the crow flies. And in the 14 years since we've live here, we've been evacuated once and told to prepare for evacuation two other times. So I'm all for doing what is best to minimize fire danger. I just don't see the on/off switch as being the safety measure that the FS does.

Edited by rlnunix on 02/09/2012 15:12:54 MST.

Ty Guillory
(TyGui) - F
Alcohol Stoves a fire hazard? on 02/09/2012 15:38:15 MST Print View

..."Sounds overblown to me."
..."How the heck do you not clear out an area for your stove, then manage to spill that much fuel to light up a forest fire?"

Apparently neither have spent time in drought conditions with some wind. I have seen small very contained fires get out of hand quick. And once it hits dry grass, it is not nearly as easy to put out as one would imagine.

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Fire hazards on 02/09/2012 18:58:26 MST Print View

I agree with you completely about drought conditions. When it gets really dry, here is SoCal the forests are closed to public entry. The smart hiker will find something else to do when it gets that dry, official closure or not.

A few years ago, I was out with my dog in the Sespe. It was fearfully dry, and I decided that was it for that area until we got some rain, most likely about two months in the future. Forty-eight hours later, ricochets from a group target shooting along Highway 33 started a 21,000 acre fire (Wolf) that burned right through the area where the doggie and I had been hiking.

When conditions are right (or wrong) any kind of stove can be a hazard. Enjoy your Clif bars and water....

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Alcohol stoves ARE more of a fire hazard than most other stoves on 02/09/2012 19:03:11 MST Print View

I fought wild fires for many years and walked through that PCT fire mentioned above while it was still burning.

The fellow that started that fire is a super nice, conscientious person. Most people have no real idea of how easy a fire can get away. A spark or tiny flame can be out of control in 2 seconds if conditions are bad. PCT hikers have a shameful record of starting wildfires. I shuddered many times seeing places where hikers started their camp stoves or camp fires. Some grass will burn so fast and hot that even if you are on top of it immediately it's too late. Even a 10' circle cleared to bare earth won't be enough if there's a wind and a spark lights grass like that. The soil itself will burn if it's dry and there's enough organic matter in it.

The flame is often invisible with alcohol stoves and they are very easy to tip over, spilling burning fuel across the ground. Of course they can be safe if a person is heads up. But nevertheless they can be significantly more risky when it comes to starting wildfires.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Don't burn us out of our backyards on 02/09/2012 19:47:28 MST Print View

My understanding on alky stoves, according to FS officials, you have to be able to turn it off. I've seen do-gooders tell me during extreme fire conditions in August, that it was family tradition to have a campfire when they went camping. Their interpretation was an established campsite in the Caribou Wilderness here in N. CA, was in a campground, so was legal. So, when you think policies don't apply to you, think again. If you burn the woods down where I live, you can go home, I have to live with it for a long time.

I should also add, bpers are not being singled out, us firewood cutters have to face Hoot owl and total shut down of the woods and campfires are only allowed in established campgrounds if at all when things get hot and dry.
Duane

Edited by hikerduane on 02/09/2012 19:51:30 MST.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Don't burn your pants off. on 02/09/2012 20:07:20 MST Print View

I was camped solo at a backcountry walk-in site with a picnic table. Cooking dinner, I fumbled my pot, knocked over my potstand, and spilled my stove while lit. If a hadn't jumped faster I would've had a lake of fire on my crotch...

I cook on the floor with alcohol now.

a b
(Ice-axe)
Salt and alcohol stoves on 02/09/2012 20:30:56 MST Print View

This is kinda a "hindsight is 20/20" piece of advice but the addition of a dash of salt to the supply of alcohol fuel makes the flame a visible bright yellow.
It is probably not soemthing that hikers would remember to do or even do if the had the opportunity being that nobody expects to spill their cat food can stove until it happens.
At any rate, bright yellow flames would be easier to see even in daylight and possibly easier to extinguish.
Here is a picture of my 12-10 caldera burning yellow HEET with a tiny pinch of salt added.
.Pinch of salt added to alcohol stove for visible flame
.
The most eggregious thing I saw hikers do was set up their home made alcohol stoves directly on top of wooded picnic tables in the campgrounds. Without a sheet of foil between the wood and hot stove gasses trapped within the wind screen this left an ugly circular burn mark on the table.
Some of these burn marks are quite deep on bare wood and melted and singed painted tables.
The situation is pretty scary with a new crop of hikers every year, many of which have never used their alcohol stoves before the hike.
Although I would like to defend my hiker buddies on this one i have to admit: Alcohol stoves are inherently more dangerous than contained fuel canister stoves in regards to setting fires.
A pinch of salt in the fuel bottle would make the flames visible.
A disk of tin foil under the windscreen and burner would protect the table.
Best of all would be to go no-cook anywhere near vegetation in arid places like SoCal.

PS. I just realized I could have cooked my soup on my alcohol stove while getting the picture instead of the house propane.. DOH!

Edited by Ice-axe on 02/09/2012 20:33:17 MST.

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
Fire danger on 02/09/2012 21:31:17 MST Print View

"My understanding on alky stoves, according to FS officials, you have to be able to turn it off. I've seen do-gooders tell me during extreme fire conditions in August, that it was family tradition to have a campfire when they went camping. Their interpretation was an established campsite in the Caribou Wilderness here in N. CA, was in a campground, so was legal. So, when you think policies don't apply to you, think again. If you burn the woods down where I live, you can go home, I have to live with it for a long time."

I don't know of any alky stoves that have a shutoff valve. There are multiple levels of fire bans where I live but one of them is that all stoves have an on/off switch. And as I mentioned before, we'd really prefer to avoid wildfires as well. If my house burns down, I can get it replaced. But what value does it have, either from a livability or financial perspective, if the forest won't be back for 30-40 years and all I see is dead trees for the rest of my life time? So fire prevention is very important to us.

Just to qualify this, the terrain around here, at least where you would want to camp, is forested with dirt floors. Grass is in meadows where you wouldn't want to camp anyway. So which is more dangerous, a .5 oz alky stove that is kicked over or a white gas stove attached to a 12 oz pressurized bottle of white gas that has either a poor seal, a bad jet, or is poorly primed? I'll take the alky stove if it's close to where I live.

People starting a campfire during a fire ban is a completely different issue and not relevent to this discussion at all. Not sure how that got into the discussion.

Edited by rlnunix on 02/09/2012 21:33:40 MST.