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The Case Against Wood Fires
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rOg w
(rOg_w) - F

Locale: rogwilmers.wordpress
deleted on 05/21/2013 11:48:12 MDT Print View

deleted

Edited by rOg_w on 06/17/2013 20:21:22 MDT.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Re The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/21/2013 12:13:38 MDT Print View

Okay lets forget the planet for the moment. How bad is it for an outdoorsmen to sit next to a campfire? Most of us are only around campfires a few times a year, and for relatively short periods of time (compared to people who live in wood heated homes).

If being around a campfire can give me cancer then people who heat with wood all winter should be dropping like flies.

Ian B.
(IDBLOOM) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/21/2013 12:38:03 MDT Print View

"Who told you it would be $700 to replace the catalyst?"

The sales person and this was several years ago. There were other reasons for why I lost interest in the wood stove above and beyond that so I never did any followup research or comparative shopping. I'm not surprised that the quote was high though. Smallish town, fewer choices, and higher prices seems to be the M.O.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/21/2013 13:49:23 MDT Print View

When I first saw the thread title I thought this was going to be some LNT nazi rant about burning wood causing an ecological disaster.

But this thread has me thinking.
I fully admit to creating an intentionally smoky fire and intentionally sitting downwind with the smoke blowing right in my face for the purpose of holding back an onslaught of mosquitoes.
I've used a fire extensively when backpacking. There were many nights when I first started where I kept a fire going all night to compensate for my crappy gear. I remember pushing a 40 degree bag into the teens. Also a cold winter night without a fire is miserable for me.

If you wore a buff or bandanna over your face, would that block some of the harmful particles?

I think the emission argument is silly. Think about all of the people burning wood in their homes and all of the smoke from wildfires. And the emissions from driving your car to the trail head. I don't think a campfire is something to worry about.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/21/2013 13:57:53 MDT Print View

I just read an article about cured meats and sodium nitrate being extremely unhealthy and causing cancer.
I guess I eat/inhale a lot of unhealthy things when backpacking.


p.s. Cesar, I remember when you started a flame war on bushcraft usa about people who carry 30lbs of steel and complain about their pack weight.

Jon Fong
(jonfong) - F - M

Locale: FLAT CAT GEAR
Re: Re: The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/21/2013 14:00:41 MDT Print View

Ever been in Yosemite Valley in summertime? The air quality there is worse that Los Angeles (and I ive in Los Angeles).

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Re Re the Case Against Wood Fires on 05/21/2013 14:10:33 MDT Print View

"If you wore a buff or bandanna over your face, would that block some of the harmful particles?"

Since the particles can supposedly filter into neighboring houses I would guess not. On the other hand since the outdoors are way more ventilated then a living room I wonder how bad this really is. Even nerve gas becomes effectively harmless given enough ventilation. Notice all the hedge words like "potentially harmful" "can cause." No where do they say "X amount of time by a fire will produce Y chance of cancer or heart disease."

Andrew Zajac
(AZajac)

Locale: South West
in defense of the blog... kind of on 05/21/2013 14:13:55 MDT Print View

As someone who is also concerned about scientific validity I decided to look up Sam Harris's reference. He recommends this paper at the end of the blog. Not actually citing it is kind of fishy, but at least it shows he has read up on the issue.

Naeher, Luke P., et al. "Woodsmoke health effects: a review." Inhalation toxicology 19.1 (2007): 67-106.

You will probably have to access it through an academic institution or pay some ridiculous fee if you want to read it, but you can email me if you really want it and I can hook you up with the pdf so that you can draw your own conclusions. It is quite an exhaustive review from a peer-reviewed journal. It has also been cited 412 times by other peer-reviewed articles as of today according to google scholar. This all means that I have no doubt of the scientific validity of the claims in the article and I would urge people to read it for themselves and draw their own conclusions rather than listen to someone who is seemingly a professional atheist and is trying to prove a point about how paradigms are ingrained.

From a quick skim of the article, it seems that the blog author doesn't make anything up, but he does sensationalize a bit . In my opinion, the shortcoming of this blog post is that the author doesn't seem take into account the overall impact of the alternatives. For example, he advocates use of natural gas as healthier alternative, but there are plenty of public health risks associated with extraction, processing, transportation, and combustion of natural gas. Heating your home with local wood that you chop by hand eliminates pollution from extraction, processing, and transportation of natural gas and may even improve your health with the exercise required.

The Naeher et al. article is also most concerned with developing countries and firefighters. After a quick read of the article with an open mind, I personally am not worried about an occasional camp fire or even using a well drafting wood stove and plan to use them in the future.

"Poison is in everything and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy" - Paracelsus

Edited by AZajac on 05/21/2013 14:15:02 MDT.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Fire fire burning bright on 05/21/2013 14:21:18 MDT Print View

All I know is I'd rather be outside thinking whether I should have a fire or not instead on sitting on my rear end looking at forums posts about whether to have a fire or not.

;)

Katharina ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Fire fire burning bright on 05/21/2013 14:23:46 MDT Print View

You Tyger you

Andrew Zajac
(AZajac)

Locale: South West
Re: Fire fire burning bright on 05/21/2013 14:36:47 MDT Print View

True that, so print this out and read it by a fire. You can even stand if you don't like sitting on your rear end. You can even burn it page by page as you read it and really stick it to the man if you wish. ;)

Link to the article.
https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B2B_dN1jIG5AdkJCLW1XQXkzOWM/edit?usp=sharing

Edited to add winky face to ensure it is all in good fun

Edited by AZajac on 05/21/2013 14:55:35 MDT.

Ian B.
(IDBLOOM) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/21/2013 15:00:09 MDT Print View

"I think the emission argument is silly."

Ordinarily I would agree with you and in the case of campfires, I unconditionally agree with you.

My concern is more local as we live in an area prone to inversions which results in stagnant air. We see a rise in ER visits by asthmatics etc when these hit. I've never lived anywhere else which has these much less with such frequency.

This wiki page has a perfect picture of what I'm talking about. Not trying to patronize you but I personally knew nothing about them before moving back to eastern Washington.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inversion_(meteorology)

Josh Brock
(needsAbath)

Locale: Outside
EYES ARE NOW OPEN on 05/21/2013 15:43:45 MDT Print View

How have we survived this long burning wood? I will never be cought dead by a fire its just too dangerous. I was just at the hospital and it was filled with people that had too many fires in their fire places waiting to die.

Way to make a minor health issue so dramatic. Whats next on your agenda "Cheese will it be the end of humanity?" the wolrd is one american cheese slice away from a heart attack.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
mm on 05/21/2013 16:00:38 MDT Print View

It's smoke; of course it's not good to breathe it. But I think I'll save my respirator for when I'm working with heavy dust and nasty VOCs from man-made products. I can't get too worked up about the occasional fire when all the meat/eggs/dairy/fiber/nitrites/ethanol I consume is already no doubt causing cancer to fester in my every cell. I do have to laugh (bitterly) that Harris dares to suggest natural gas as a "clean" alternative. Please.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
fire on 05/21/2013 16:02:21 MDT Print View

how may fires do you start a year "camping" ... 5? 10? ....

i wouldnt worry about it unless yr doing it every day like those in third world countries

what i WOULD worry about is knowing and keeping in practice on HOW to start a fire ... cause if you never practice you wont be able to do i when yr cold,tired, hungry, shivering and in the dark ... and youll be deader than a dodo

;)

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/21/2013 16:42:01 MDT Print View

> Here is what we know from a scientific point of view: There is no amount of wood
> smoke that is good to breathe. It is at least as bad for you as cigarette smoke, and
> probably much worse.

A small correction: that is what the original author of the quoted text has written. Whether or not it is true is quite another matter.

For a start, it's in a blog. No scientific (or common sense) checking at all. Blogs like that are very often written by people with a real nut-case bee in their bonnets, and distort the name of science to an extreme. I am not saying this author has done that, just that it is possible. The more extreme the claims, the more likely.

Next, humanity has survived many hundreds of thousands of years (and I do means that) sitting around small (and often smoky) wood fires. We have evolved from primitive species to modern man in the company of small wood fires. Does this suggest that the fires are highly toxic to us - or that maybe we are quite adapted to them?

The claims that wood smoke contains 'hundreds of compounds known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, and irritating to the respiratory system' may well be true, but what is missing there is any mention of concentration. This is typical of such hysterical arguments. FACT: the human immune system relies on the continued presence of low levels of harmful things to keep it primed to protect us. Grow up in an utterly sterile and clean environment and you become a 'bubble baby': you will die when you meet the real world.

I am stirred to comment when anyone trys to misuse science in pursuit of some mad quasi-religeous agenda. That would be the case here.

All that said, if anyone wants to stop lighting fires, that's fine by me. I don't mind.

Cheers

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: in defense of the blog... kind of on 05/21/2013 16:44:37 MDT Print View

Hi Andrew

> you can email me if you really want it and I can hook you up with the pdf so that you
> can draw your own conclusions.

I'm retired these days and don't have access like I used to. Appreciated if you can.
Cheers
roger@backpackinglight.com

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/21/2013 17:53:17 MDT Print View

I burn self-harvested firewood as the primary source of heat for my home, have been for the last 32 years. I live a five minute walk from FS land, so I use little gas to haul it home. I'm one of two people in my small department at work that routinely have perfect attendance each year. I rarely catch any bug or get sick. I'm afraid this all is like saying the sky is falling after getting hit on the head by an apple falling out of the tree. Not wanting to sound sarcastic as many previous posters I know and respect their wisdom have commented. I also managed a convenience store for 19 years in Kalifornia, having read the posted signs that state requires about harmful chemicals in petro products and cigarettes. Like bping for many of us, all in moderation. Water will kill you too, if too much is drank.
Duane

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Some replies on 05/22/2013 02:50:21 MDT Print View

Andrew - Thank you for looking into the source material and confirming that Harris is building his case using solid science. We may have to disagree about him sensationalizing it, which is rather subjective, but glad we can agree that science has confirmed that wood fires/smoke are quite harmful for you. Moderation is another issue, and then again, there are people that smoke tobacco and don't get cancer.

Harris not focusing on the alternatives I think is not so much a shortcoming on his part, but a limitation of the scope of the text. He wanted to make an apt analogy, which I think he did quite well, not jump into the rabbit hole of all of the nuances of natural gas production and consumption. But your point is well taken about natural gas. I don't know much about natural gas, but the little I do know is that solar and wind power seem to be overall much better for the environment, and would advocate their use--but this is the subject of another thread, methinks.

Justin - "Cesar, I remember when you started a flame war on bushcraft usa about people who carry 30lbs of steel and complain about their pack weight."

I remember it too, but I wouldn't characterize it as me starting a flame war. A guy asked for feedback on a video of his where he showed off his gear. I gave him feedback and he and others didn't like it for some pretty absurd reasons. I remember posting a link to the video on here shortly after, because it was pretty shocking to those of us that are into lightweight BPing. He had I think 4 knives, an axe, and a machete; and he had like 6 liters of water, but lives in PA. Anyhow, needless to say, I don't miss BCUSA at all, but all this is a neither here nor there.


Roger - "For a start, it's in a blog. No scientific (or common sense) checking at all. Blogs like that are very often written by people with a real nut-case bee in their bonnets, and distort the name of science to an extreme. I am not saying this author has done that, just that it is possible. The more extreme the claims, the more likely."

You did see Andrew's assessment of Harris' citations, and you even asked to have him send you the source. So I think it is dishonest of you to first say that it's just a blog, for one (i.e. appeal to authority fallacy). Then you suggest there is no scientific checking, and that often blog authors are nutcases (ad hom fallacy)--yet then, what is confusing, is that you say that this author may or may not be doing that. Why bother to rant about it then? It comes off like you wanted to make some hasty accusations, without directly addressing the text, and then evasively state that you are not saying these accusations apply to Harris (but that it's possible).

"Next, humanity has survived many hundreds of thousands of years (and I do means that) sitting around small (and often smoky) wood fires. We have evolved from primitive species to modern man in the company of small wood fires. Does this suggest that the fires are highly toxic to us - or that maybe we are quite adapted to them?"

You ignore the fact that humanity has also increased its life span significantly since we were hunter-gatherers, not to mention that humanity has survived doing all sorts of things--this does not mean that all of what we have done to survive are good or preferred methods of our continued well-being. For hundreds of thousands of years man survived without modern medicine and things we now take for granted like sanitizing wounds with things like rubbing alcohol and such. Think of all the people that must have died from preventible infections.

You suggest that we are quite adapted to wood fires. Not sure what you mean exactly. That our bodies are adapted to wood smoke? Because surely this is not the case. There are many toxic chemicals in wood smoke, and if you are exposed to them often, your risk for cancer and heart conditions increases, from what I gather.

Next, had you read the rest of Harris' article, you would have read the following, which you have pretty much proved Harris' point with your appeal to our use of fire to survive as a species:

"I suspect that many of you have already begun to marshal counterarguments of a sort that will be familiar to anyone who has debated the validity and usefulness of religion. Here is one: Human beings have warmed themselves around fires for tens of thousands of years, and this practice was instrumental in our survival as a species. Without fire there would be no material culture. Nothing is more natural to us than burning wood to stay warm.

True enough. But many other things are just as natural—such as dying at the ripe old age of thirty. Dying in childbirth is eminently natural, as is premature death from scores of diseases that are now preventable. Getting eaten by a lion or a bear is also your birthright—or would be, but for the protective artifice of civilization—and becoming a meal for a larger carnivore would connect you to the deep history of our species as surely as the pleasures of the hearth ever could. For nearly two centuries the divide between what is natural—and all the needless misery that entails—and what is good has been growing. Breathing the fumes issuing from your neighbor’s chimney, or from your own, now falls on the wrong side of that divide. "

Again, I include Harris' point about religion so you could get the full context of the above quote, but my focus here is of course on wood fires and not religion.

"The claims that wood smoke contains 'hundreds of compounds known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, and irritating to the respiratory system' may well be true, but what is missing there is any mention of concentration. This is typical of such hysterical arguments. FACT: the human immune system relies on the continued presence of low levels of harmful things to keep it primed to protect us. Grow up in an utterly sterile and clean environment and you become a 'bubble baby': you will die when you meet the real world."

This is a red herring. No amount of toxic chemicals is good for you, period. And while it is true that the human immune system functions better when primed, you wouldn't smoke a big cigar while you held a newborn baby, now would you? And you also include toxins and things like bacteria together when you use the blanket term "harmful things" in relation to priming our immune system. Being exposed to bacteria and being exposed to toxins are two entirely different things, which affect our bodies and our bodies processes much differently. For instance, having a chicken pox party so that children can be exposed to this illness and then build a subsequent immunity to it is one thing. Gathering children together into a room full of smoke in an absurd attempt to "toughen" them up or prime their immune system is another thing, and I would be surprised if you could find scientific scholarship that would support such a thing.

"I am stirred to comment when anyone trys to misuse science in pursuit of some mad quasi-religeous agenda. That would be the case here."

I don't see how Harris or the other source I cited was misusing science. Harris' agenda is ironically against religion--his point is that people often defend traditions irrationally, i.e. because fires bring people warmth and comfort, they don't want to believe that they are harmful, and will go through great lengths (as you have done) to justify the continued use of wood fires (e.g. appeals to tradition, priming our immune systems, etc.).

You are just using a bare assertion in claiming that this is a case of someone misusing science in a pursuit of a mad quasi-religions agenda, and your rebuttals don't substantiate this claim, as I have elaborated on above.

Others have been more honest in their contributions and have been able to recognize that wood smoke is indeed harmful, but to strive for moderation. This I can respect, and to a degree, this is close to how I intend on addressing this issue. I plan on avoiding wood fires/smoke, but because I enjoy them so much, there will be times I break down and sit by a cozy campfire. But where we go from here collectively as a community of outdoor enthusiasts that come into contact perhaps more thank most people with wood fires, this is the crux of the issue.

Do we accept the facts and strive for moderation and avoidance of a clearly harmful aspect of the outdoor experience? Or do we stamp our feet in denial of the scientific facts and continue to promote and practice this harmful aspect? I don't mean to suggest that this is a false dichotomy, and would of course be open to more nuanced solutions, but as I see it, these seem to be two significant factions of this discussion.

A disclaimer: please don't take the above personally. This medium of communication has inherent limitations. You can't use my body language or intonations in my voice to build an entirely accurate idea of my intentions or tone. I assure you I am not angry or offended or anything like that. We just disagree on some key points. My aim is for civil and polite discourse, though I am human too, so forgive me if ever come across as anything other than interested in a positive intellectual exchange of ideas. :)

Erik Basil
(EBasil)

Locale: Atzlan
Re: Re: The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/22/2013 07:30:04 MDT Print View

Wow.

Well, my take-away is the reminder not to breathe too much campfire smoke and, as a guy that sits around a dozen or more of those a year *and* tends to function like a chimney wall...I do get smokey. Heck, I have a jacket that smells Awesome, from campfire smoke. I've had people in line at the store comment that I smell like a campfire!

If it were a thread about LNT, I'd understand it: on trail in the locations I go, scavenging and burning wood on the ground "leaves trace" in spades.