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Backcountry Fire Rings
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Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/02/2013 19:29:13 MDT Print View

Many of the local canyons I backpack in have semi-established sites that include rock fire rings. When I say "semi-established site" I do not mean anything "official" that can be found marked on a map, but simply areas that have been used so repeatedly throughout the years that they have become habitual sites. Compacted soil, cleared vegetation, fire rings, and trash will typically accompany them.

I was camping in the vicinity of one such site this weekend and was considering destroying the fire rings there, one of which is pretty big.

A few thoughts on this:

1. Do you think destroying rings in such sites would deter people from building fires by removing the ease of it? (Keep in mind, it is typically illegal to have fires in most of these areas anyway)

2. Do you think destroying these fire rings would simply encourage more potentially dangerous fire habits? Perhaps the existing rings are safer as they typically are located away from vegetation and could contain a fire relatively well.

3. Would destroying rings just encourage people to build new ones in new places, just spreading the impact?

4. Would leaving these semi-established sites alone potentially help concentrate the impact in one area, thus reducing the chances of the impact spreading?


I know there's no clear-cut answer to any of these questions, but I'm curious as to where people weigh in.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/02/2013 19:43:00 MDT Print View

Craig - a bit more info would help in determining a proper response.

1. how far from a major metro area is this ?
2. is this a high traffic area from that metro population (i.e. not exactly a secret and not excatly hard to get to), or is it a semi secret and off the beaten path).
3.what kind of land is it ? private, BLM, Nat Forest, Nat Wilderness, State park, etc. (different land managers have different responses to this type of thing. we may or may not agree with their response, but it is still helpful to know).
4. probably something else I can't think of right now.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/02/2013 19:49:59 MDT Print View

All the areas I'm talking about are National Forest land, well traveled, and pretty close to trails. Definitely not anything secret or off the beaten path. In fact, most of these camps are within eyesight or 50 feet from major trails.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/02/2013 20:45:58 MDT Print View

Illegal fire rings, dismantle. I think their presence means fires are OK to a lot of people.

Established camps, well...

Edited by kthompson on 06/02/2013 21:27:12 MDT.

Theron Rohr
(theronr) - F

Locale: Los Angeles, California
Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/02/2013 20:46:19 MDT Print View

Since this is National Forest land I think you should leave the management of these rings up to the Forest Service. As you say these are not hidden so the rangers probably know about them and they can decide whether to destroy them. For all you know they are sanctioned in some way and you would be the one doing wrong here!

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/02/2013 21:55:44 MDT Print View

I have an old friend who used to be a backcountry ranger. When I hike with him, if we are in an area where fires are not allowed he will dismantle any fire ring we come across, as this was the park policy when he was working. I think this is right, based on the idea that people will see a fire ring and think fires are okay there,especially in areas such as in the Sierra, where fires are in many places banned above a certain elevation. Many people will be uncertain of the elevation they are at, and be wondering if they are above or below the cutoff line - seeing a fire ring makes them think they must be below the line and thus it's okay to have a fire.

Plus, established camps do tend to concentrate impact in one spot, so that it is more noticeable than it would be if spread out. My opinion, anyway.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/02/2013 21:55:46 MDT Print View

Don't bother. If you take them apart someone will build one again. And in well used areas fire rings help to concentrate the impact into one area.

Outside of well used areas, I absolutely despise fire rings. There is no reason at all to build one. Just build a fire on bare ground, scatter your ashes well, and the next rain will wash everything into the soil.
I've walked up some remote canyons and creeks and found fire rings that probably haven't been used in decades. It's worse than leaving trash because it lasts forever. It ruins the pristine feeling you get when hiking off the beaten path. I always remove them.

If everyone camped off trail and cleaned up after their fires the wilderness would be in much better shape. Fuel depletion and compacted soil is only ever an issue in the vicinity of these camp areas.

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/02/2013 22:10:41 MDT Print View

I'm with Ken on this. Not everyone reads the regulations for the areas they're camping in. By dismantling the existing (illegal) fire rings you're not giving them the invitation to start a fire. I doubt that the forest service has the resources to monitor backountry camps as often as we all would like.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
"Backcountry Fire Rings" on 06/03/2013 10:39:56 MDT Print View

I tend to believe #4 - that leaving them alone will tend to concentrate that activity into a single area. In my experience, most people who don't practice LNT are lazy. They will choose to use an existing camp site with an existing fire ring if it's there rather than destroy another area.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: "Backcountry Fire Rings" on 06/03/2013 20:39:00 MDT Print View

#4 plus consult with a local ranger for guidance or insight imo.

Apples to oranges but I was in North Cascades NP last weekend and we were required to stay in designated camp sites. The nice thing about this system is that it formally keeps the human impact concentrated to a few areas along the trail. There are privies at the campsites as well so that certainly helps keep the off trail pollution to a minimum. The result is that I saw no side trails or illegal campsites anywhere on our trail.

While I don't like dealing with the bureaucracy of the campsite permits, I do appreciate the benefit this system has on the park. It sounds like your area may have an informal (and possibly illegal) version of the same thing.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/03/2013 21:38:50 MDT Print View

If they're along well-used trails and in plain site within a few miles of a trailhead, I'm inclined to let them be. More so if they are clear from brush and show evidence of presumably unsanctioned but nonetheless longterm use. There's lots of these throughout the Southern Los Padres along most of the main, popular trail corridors. Given the numbers these trails see, it's inevitable that the few official trail camps are not sufficient to meet the demands of the many. Luckily, not many of these folks make it more than about 8 miles in.

As I get deeper into the backcountry and/or head off into less visited areas, my tolerance for makeshift fire rings begins to wane, and I do get more of a hankering to dismantle fire rings and hide evidence of makeshift camps. This is particularly crucial in "special" areas where you don't necessarily want to attract lots of attention with well worn use trails, obvious camps sites, etc.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Backcountry Fire Ring a ling bingo on 06/04/2013 07:32:46 MDT Print View

I think I'm with Nico on this one, because I do pass or have used un-official fire rings, especially back in "the day". There really is a need for them in well-trafficked areas and where, frankly, folks are gonna do a campfire somewhere.

As the elevations increase, I find them confusing and frustrating, however. Particularly in the Ansel Adams, where we come across fire rings in horse camps that are clearly used, well-built out and definitely "beyond" the no-fires lines on the maps handed out by the Ranger Station when you pick up your permit. So, I've asked the obvious question: "do the packers have permission to use fire pits because of their permits?" I get a "No", but the rangers aren't tearing out the fire rings/pits and there's no chance in heck they don't know they're there. What gives?

What's certain is that my compatriots on trail see them (I'm not above using the nice, flat, sides of rock rings to perch stoves upon), see the fresh charcoal and then ask about it. It's frustrating to have some things lean toward, "well, others may be doing it, but we're not", again and again.

In case this comes up, why use a drovers' camp site? Well, if you've got a large group, it's way more LNT to use the established site and spread around that. Just gotta dodge the apple zones when placing tents about the area. :) Of course, the larger the group, the more incentive/desire there can be to sit around a campfire...

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/04/2013 08:36:49 MDT Print View

I don't see this as a black and white issue.
I haven't really thought about it enough, over time, to have formulated a real view on the matter, and don't want to just pull one out of my a$$.

not sure though that the spots being discussed are true "backcountry" and this fact can weigh in.

The only thing I am sure about is that if there are fire rings there also should be benches.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/04/2013 21:34:23 MDT Print View

"The only thing I am sure about is that if there are fire rings there also should be benches."

And dumpsters.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Change your focus to cairns on 06/04/2013 21:38:11 MDT Print View


Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Backcountry Fire Rings on 06/04/2013 21:39:44 MDT Print View

"4. Would leaving these semi-established sites alone potentially help concentrate the impact in one area, thus reducing the chances of the impact spreading?"

This seems most plausible to me. Someone would have to go t considerable effort to duplicate all the "amenities" associated with a highly used fire ring area. I suspect most would just as soon take the path of least resistance and use the established sites. At least I hope so. #4 has my vote, but who knows for sure. The rugged backcountry types that frequent such sites are a diverse lot and their behavior is notoriously difficult to predict. ;o)

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Change your focus to cairns on 06/04/2013 21:57:46 MDT Print View

I have time for both. But dang those things are pesky. Leading to nowhere all to often.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Change your focus to cairns on 06/04/2013 23:01:08 MDT Print View

Destroying cairns is boring.

But rebuilding them to lead people hopelessly astray takes creativity.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Change your focus to cairns on 06/04/2013 23:30:24 MDT Print View

I like piles of rocks that people erect just for fun. Sometimes several stacks right next to each other.

I hate it when grumpy Craig comes by and knocks them down muttering something about "leave no trace"...

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Wilderness fire rings on 06/06/2013 19:12:10 MDT Print View

I've dismantled more than one fire ring that was too close to a lake in wilderness. One I did a few years ago in the Caribou Wilderness, some folks came by later in the day, rebuilt it, pitched their tent right next to the trail and by the next morning, had tp along the trail too. Right along side the tracks their wheeled cooler made the day before. I just shook my head and slowly walked by, I don't think it would have done any good to preach to them. Maybe I should have dropped my shorts and left a deposit in front of their tent.