Oregonians Must Camp Without Fire

As of Thursday, July 22, all open flame will be banned east of Interstate 5, with the exception of portable stoves and lanterns that use liquid fuel. This rule by the Oregon Department of Forestry is a reaction to this year’s earlier-than-expected fire season and the drought the state has been experiencing.  

At least 70% of Oregon’s forest fires are sparked by human activity, and the hot, dry conditions of the summer help them spread even further. As such, the restriction on open flame is intended to help prevent new blazes.  

In the words of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Director Lisa Sumption, “every park visitor can do their part to protect the landscapes we all love.” In the midst of wildfire season, firefighters and firefighting resources are already in high demand. No camper wants to be the reason a wildfire doesn’t get the attention it needs.  

According to Chief of Fire Protection at ODF, Doug Grafe, the conditions that made the state ripe for spreading fires include a record-setting heat dome in late June and the intense drought all over Oregon. Grafe claimed in the governor’s press briefing that the severity of these conditions are about a month and a half earlier than may be expected in any other year.  

Unfortunately, much of the state is already seeing an abundance of wildfires this summer. Campfire bans like this one have been in place in some places, including Mount Hood and Giffort Pichot and Willamette National Forests as early as July 1. But fires continue to burn. 

Given the severity of this hot and dry summer, the precautionary measure of campfire-free parks is both necessary and predictable. But it doesn’t have to ruin the fun of camping so long as you’re cautious, and camp far from existing fires. Here are a few tips for altered camping this summer.  

First and foremost, check the latest information about forest fires in the area you’re planning to camp, and call the forest service or campground manager when possible. No view is worth driving into smoke or possible flame.  

When camping without fire, be sure to bring a few extra layers and some blankets you don’t mind getting pine needles on for warmth at night. Another great option is to have a few chemical-powered pocket-warmer heat packs.  

For light, be sure to bring a lantern. For a bit more soft ambient light, try pointing a flashlight into a jug or clear bag full of water. This trick is perfect to play cards or read a book on the picnic table or in the tent, as the water diffuses the light perfectly.  

For the feeling of S’Mores without the need for flame, consider buying some marshmallow cream to spread on your Graham crackers. Or, make some S’Mores themed trail mix at home with smaller crackers, chocolate chips, and freeze-dried mallows.  

Bring along good cold food. There are plenty of great options that won’t leave you wanting. Like grain-and-bean bowls with vegetables and sauce, cold tacos made with crumbled jerky, pre-cooked meat or just beans, thick chili made at home and used as a twist on “bean dip” for corn chips, sandwiches, salad (or pasta salad, potato salad, grain salad, etc.), trail mix, granola, chips, and other easy snacks.  

Camping is a fantastic pastime and a great way to make the most of Oregon’s breathtaking landscapes. Just stay safe and remember to stay fire-free east of the I-5 this summer. As Grafe said in the governor’s briefing, we can’t go on expecting the environment to “return to normal” soon.  

By Ardea C. Eichner