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The Case Against Wood Fires
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Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
camp fires on 05/22/2013 07:43:52 MDT Print View

I still plan on making a campfire once in a while (3-4 times a year) for the simple reason that I like it.

Perhaps I'll ponder a longer, more detailed response other than "'cause I like it" as I sit around said campfire. ;)

BER ---
(BER) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Wood fires on 05/22/2013 10:46:52 MDT Print View


I like your well rationed and on-point rebuttal. Kudos for keeping it to a very well spoken discussion.

As a physician who has not read the article in question, but is well familiar with a variety of respiratory ailments, I would just say:

Long term/frequent repetitive smoke exposure, probably bad (from carcinogens).
Short term smoke exposure in confined space, possibly bad (from carbon monoxide and other toxins depending on concentration and length of exposure).
Short term/ infrequent smoke exposure in unconfined space, probably of minimal concern, with the caveat to those with a history of emphysema, asthma, known allergies to smoke, or other COPD (from secondary pulmonary irritation and resultant bronchospasm).

An interesting discussion.

Edited by BER on 05/22/2013 10:53:03 MDT.

Cesar Valdez
(PrimeZombie) - F

Locale: Scandinavia
Re: Wood fires on 05/22/2013 12:26:53 MDT Print View

Ber - Thank you for your kind words! Much appreciated, especially from a physician. I think you provide an excellent summary of the consequences. For the past three years I have gone out into the woods on average of about 20 nights per year. I would say a solid 75% or so of those trips included one or more campfires, and that's not including campfires from day trips and friends and family that have wood stoves or fireplaces. You can see my concern, surely, from all this exposure. From what I understand the lungs are a touch organ and can clean themselves out given time and clean air. The damage to my heart I don't even want to think about, but hopefully it will not have lasting effects. I am 32 years old and fairly active (just came back from a 2.5 day, 55km trip), so that I hope will help to cancel out any damage done--plus my wife is a vegetarian, so I mostly eat vegetarian or vegan at home. I do eat meat but favor foul and seafood. I usually only have red meat once a week or so, at times less. But I digress...

You should read the articles cited, they make for good reading, and I am glad you found this discussion interesting :)

no case on 05/22/2013 15:56:11 MDT Print View

You are going to die, no matter what.

Wood smoke from campfires, is likely negligible compared to other risk factors in your environment.

Edited by livingontheroad on 05/22/2013 15:59:44 MDT.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/22/2013 19:01:18 MDT Print View

Statistics show that absolutely 100% of people who sit near a campfire or breathe in smoke from another's campfire will eventually die.

In all seriousness though, outside of those segments of the population that are exposed to smoke/ash on a highly regular basis and/or those that are unusually susceptible to breathing problems (like those with chronic asthma), I have a hard time believing that occasional exposure to wood smoke/ash should rank high on one's health risk radar.

I understand and can appreciate that smoke is unhealthy and even exposure to a little of it isn't doing your lungs, eyes, throat, etc. any favors, but to conclude that wood fires pose such an unacceptably high health risk that all should avoid fires entirely seems like a bit of an overreaction. Like any other potentially dangerous activity or commodity, a little care and moderation should go a long way toward helping avoid, or at least minimize, the ill effects of smoke/ash (like only sitting around the occasional campfire and trying to stay upwind of it).

Interestingly, Southern CA beach cities are caught up in the midst of this debate right now. The City of Newport Beach is attempting to remove all of the public fire rings from City beaches. Apparently, homeowners along the beach front in these areas are complaining of being inundated with smoke and ash from these fire pits, especially during the busy summer season. Others charge the effort to remove the fire pits is a thinly veiled attempt at dissuading out-of-town beachgoers from using these beaches by taking away these popular amenities. The City failed to get the approval from the CA Coastal Commission on their first attempt to remove the fire pits, as the Commission saw the removal of the fire pits as a loss of "public coastal access/recreation." Since then the regional Air Quality Control Board has decided to step into the fray and proposed a rule change that would require the removal of all fire pits from all beaches within their jurisdiction under the guise of air quality and public health. This, of course, has kicked off a sh!tstorm of opposition from folks who enjoy the fire pits as well as other coastal cities who enjoy the added traffic and revenue the beachgoers bring to their City. Not to mention, it's caused others to question the prioritizing of beach fire pit removals over other much larger sources of smoke/ash (e.g. wood burning fireplaces in many homes). Not sure where this will all end up when all's said and done. Wouldn't be surprised if the heavy hitter politicos have to step in to settle the dispute.

just Justin Whitson
Re: The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/22/2013 21:13:16 MDT Print View

Re: in home wood fires; what about one of those efficient wood stoves? I have and use one most of the winter. Since i usually burn pressed sawdust bricks which are quite dry, and my stove has a chamber and design set up to go through a secondary burn wherein the gases and smoke is burned up some too...

I have a hard time believing it's super bad for everything and everyone. When it's running well, you don't even see any smoke come out of the chimney. Granted i have to run it fairly hot and not damp it down too much to do so, but i would rather burn it cleaner than save a little fuel since i'm using recycled stuff to begin with.

Granted, different than a camp fire, but even that occasionally shouldn't be too bad.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: The Case Against Wood Fires on 05/22/2013 21:38:59 MDT Print View

"what about one of those efficient wood stoves?"

I'm sure they are awesome. I wasn't trying to start a crusade against wood stoves as much as I was trying to bring up a point that under certain circumstances (during an inversion) that the smoke can be problematic for people with breathing problems. After witnessing several severe asthma attacks in my EMS days (smokers not from stoves), I'd be concerned that my stove would trigger an attack on some kid a block away. I have nothing to back up this concern with other than just seeing how smokey it gets during these weather conditions. Probably making a mountain out of a mole hill but when I eventually buy/build my cabin, I'll shop (within reason) for the cleanest burning stove.

I was watching a couple YT videos on thermal mass stoves and there was no visible smoke coming from the vent like what you were mentioning.

Jim Sweeney
(swimjay) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Biological inefficiency on 05/29/2013 12:11:23 MDT Print View

Great discussion.

I don't have wood fires in the back country because to me they seem a waste of important local biological resources-- downed wood is an opportunity for insect growth, which fuels a whole chain of linked biologies (you may have watched a bear tear apart a log to get at the grubs), a source of compost/soil generation in stony environments, a aid to water retention in areas with variable precipitation, etc.

Turning something so complex, which would otherwise live out a many-yeared cycle of further use, into brief heat and simple smoke seems out of balance.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Biological inefficiency on 05/29/2013 12:17:28 MDT Print View

If you are hiking in a high alpine area or camping in a well used camp area, then you are absolutely right. Fuel depletion is a serious ecological problem.

But most of California below the treeline has excessive amounts of dead wood. There is so much dead wood that it crowds the forest floor and prevents new growth. It's also a huge wildfire hazard.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Biological inefficiency on 05/29/2013 12:19:54 MDT Print View

I don't have wood fires in the back country because to me they seem a waste of important local biological resources

Fires are also a natural and necessary part of many ecosystems. Not that your wood fire is necessarily contributing to ecosystem function, but just b/c you don't burn that wood doesn't mean that it won't be burned.

Theron Rohr
(theronr) - F

Locale: Los Angeles, California
Re: Re: Biological inefficiency on 05/29/2013 19:53:50 MDT Print View

"Fires are also a natural and necessary part of many ecosystems. Not that your wood fire is necessarily contributing to ecosystem function, but just b/c you don't burn that wood doesn't mean that it won't be burned."

This is a good point - certainly here in SoCal where forest fires are a natural part of the ecosystem.

I also remember another interesting argument in favor of campfires that I read a couple years ago - probably on this forum. In a nutshell the argument was that whatever environmental damage is caused by a wood fire it is probably less than that caused by the alternatives. Consider the fossil fuels burned in the mining, processing and transportation of canister stoves and their fuel for example. The chemicals in their paint, the plastic and paper in their packaging. Finally the garbage produced when they are used up. It seems probable to me that if we encouraged people to go into the woods and light fires there would less impact worldwide from the few dozen fires the average person lights, and *nothing* to throw away after 2 years when they give up camping in favor of some other hobby.

Edited by theronr on 05/29/2013 19:54:55 MDT.