CAMPFIRES WITHOUT WILDFIRES! IT’S HOW WE MUST ROLL THESE DAYS
Summer is almost here. In southern California and other areas of the West, that means fire restrictions take effect soon.
While these restrictions seem to put a crimp on your camping, it’s really just a minor inconvenience. You still get to enjoy the outdoors. It’s just a different style of camping.
During these periods, campfires and charcoal grilling (both open fires) are banned except in designated areas.
These restrictions usually take effect around the end of June just before Independence Day — ever year is a bit different. Even though it’s an annual occurrence, many campers forget. They get all the way to the camping grounds only to find the area is under a fire restriction.
Not following fire restriction signs is intolerable.
Consider yourself warned: Fire restrictions for California are in place or coming soon. By the way, those restrictions aren’t limited to California. They are in effect year-round in various national parks and wilderness areas, as well as at higher altitudes. In some places, campfires are restricted to maintain the natural beauty and features of the area. Always check for the latest information on the public lands (USFS, BLM, Parks) you will be visiting.
Liquid fuel provides the answer
The solution lies in liquid fuel. Most people use propane, but camp fuel (often called white gas) is also an option.
In lieu of a charcoal grill, you’ll use a gas fired camp stove or grill. The Dutch oven is replaced with sauce pans and, for some dishes, a pressure cooker. You can cook just about anything you normally would.
Create an oven around your Dutch Oven
If you still want to take your Dutch Oven, experiment with a Camp Chef Dutch Oven Dome. The dome fits over the Dutch Oven and the stove to create an oven. It is about $40, Cheap enough to at least try out: Model #DOCOVER.
These are so cheap at Target that you might be tempted to buy a new one someday instead of cleaning it!
I take a Char-Broil Gas Tabletop Grill (model 465133010) to use for grilling steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs. These are so cheap at Target that you might be tempted to buy a new one someday instead of cleaning it! I removed the side handles for more compact packing.
Accessories for the stove broaden your cooking possibilities. I have the nifty Coleman Camping Oven. A metal box that sits on the gas stove, it’s great for baking a few potatoes, heating up appetizers, and baking Cinnabons. The box folds up when not in use, and therefore takes up almost no space.
Don’t forget to get a camp fire permit. It’s free and available at most ranger stations and visitor centers on public lands. They just want to review safe and permitted fire operations with you.
A permit is required for liquid fuel fires too.
The biggest challenge you’ll notice during a fire restriction involves the campfire. Or lack thereof. (Assuming you’re not at a designated campsite.) Thankfully, there are propane options available to you. That’s right: a campfire fueled by propane.
I have a propane campfire pit made by Camp Chef (model GClOG), and I really like it. At 16” wide, it sports a sturdy base and comes with a supply of lava rocks. They produce a very natural-looking fire. Once in the carrying case provided, it is about 6” high. The best part is the lack of smoke. No matter which way the wind blows, there are no stinging eyes or noses.
At the right setting, you can enjoy a soft fire just perfect for a camping night. AND you can just turn it OFF with an quick twist of a valve.
Turn it up for more heat, but realize that you’ll burn through your propane quickly. An 11 lb. (2.5 gallon) tank might get you through a weekend, but a 20 pounder (5 gallons) is better. Pack an extra tank for insurance.
My fire pit uses about 1 gallon of fuel each night running a low to medium flame. After one weekend you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much fuel you burn. That’ll help you decide how much to bring each time.
The Camp Chef pack small with rocks and all.
What if you don’t have a propane unit? Place a lantern in the campfire pit and crank up the light. I know that sounds kitschy, but at least you and the gang have somewhere to congregate and chat. Those campfire bull sessions are so valuable.
My feeling is that if you have a group, you have to have a campfire. Even if it isn’t a true campfire.
Packing for fire restrictions
When fire restrictions are in place, it is time to switch gear. You won’t be taking the Dutch oven, charcoal grill, briquettes, and firewood. Instead you’ll pack the gas fire pit, camp stove, propane BBQ grill, other liquid fuel appliances, and the necessary fuel.
Propane tanks can be carried inside or outside the vehicle. I bolt an 11-pounder onto the tire carrier. I found a quality bracket from Power Tank (https://powertank.com/) to mount the 11 lb. tank.
Due to the dry conditions, you should have a fire extinguisher, shovel, and water. But you should always have those items anyway. Those are basic 4WD supplies and gear.
Fire restrictions are common, in California and elsewhere. The right gear and mindset will allow you to enjoy a fun camping trip regardless.
BE SMART; BE FIRE SAFE; AND REMEMBER, ONLY YOU…