Jennifer, by asking questions and getting information, you are clearly on the way towards using your alcohol stove safely. Nick is correct, that following the basic rules and regulations are of primary importance. Clear a spot around your stove (the forest service says a 5 foot radius). When I look at using alcohol stoves, these are the things that come into mind.
1) Find a sheltered spot, out of the wind. Wind accelerates the burn rate of alcohol. If anything bad happens, the wind will make it 10 times worse. Besides, wind will reduce your efficiency so the bottom line is less wind is in the direction of goodness.
2) Even if your spot appears clear, look for combustibles and remove them. The bottom line is that the stored energy in the duff and debris is much higher than that contained in an alcohol stove. Dry wood has an energy density of ~4 Kcal/gram and alcohol is ~ 5Kcal/gram. If your spot isn’t great, find a new spot. There is probably more potential fuel per square foot around your stove than the alcohol inside your stove. Setting up a good kitchen requires the same amount of effort and diligence as setting up a hammock or tent.
3) Please put your stove on the ground on a stable surface and not on a rock or table (stability and wind). I believe that the guy who started the Hewlett fire placed his stove on a rock. The wind speed at a table height is 3 to 5 times higher than at ground level.
4) Use a good fuel bottle such that you can control the alcohol that goes into your stove. I use one with a flip top cap. I am not a big fan of people using soda bottles for their fuel. You only need to add ½ to ¾ ounce and that is hard to control with a soda bottle.
5) I ALWAYS us a heat shield between the ground and my stove and windscreen
6) If you spill alcohol, wet down the area or even move to a new location. In a high fire zone, it might be prudent to wet down the area around your stove anyway.
7) It is a good practice to have a liter of water near your kitchen. Alcohol flames can be put out with water as the water drops the % of alcohol to a point where it will not burn.
8) If you can’t meet these criteria, be on the safe side and have a non-cooked meal.
9) Above all, GET TO KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT. I encourage new alcohol user to do several burns on their stoves and get use to how it operates. May a few meals at home BEFORE you go out on the trail.
Other tips when using an alcohol stove in a high fire danger area (my 2 cents).
1) I am not a big fan of small diameter stoves with integrated pot stands (bottle stoves). These are typically used with mugs that are tall and skinny. This raises the center of gravity high and makes the whole system prone to tipping. I am not wild about using big diameter pans either as it is hard to see if they are centered (again, stability issue). I hate the cat can stove.
2) I would avoid any stove that you have to start by applying alcohol to the outside of the stove. This includes external wicks and priming pans. Wicks and priming pans are designed to warm up or preheat the stove to get them to light faster. When done correctly, they are ok. If you add too much alcohol, you can have a pretty big fireball. The concept using alcohol on the outside of a stove makes my skin crawl.
3) I am a big fan of a well-designed windscreen to add stability and to act as a fire shield if things go bad.
4) Spill proof stoves are ok. It seems to me that if you are knocking over stoves that you probably aren’t being focused enough on what you are doing and probably shouldn’t be using an alcohol stove.
5) Again, when in doubt, eat a cold meal. Error on the side of safety.
I believe that alcohol stoves can be used safely. That being said, there is a responsibility of the user to operate them correctly. I think that your TD cone and a Starlyte would be a fine setup. Just add a heat shield. My 2 cents - Jon