Are you up to date on your knowledge of fire prevention? 

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By Dorothy Elder | Staff Writer

For outdoor enthusiasts, forest lovers and mountain adventurers, it can be hard to accept that you could be the cause of a wildfire. 

However, the U.S. National Park Service reports that from 2000-2017, nearly 85 percent of wildfires in the country were human-caused. 

Luckily, with safety precautions and thoughtful practices, you can reduce your risk of starting the next big fire. Test your knowledge below to see if you are up to date on the current fire prevention tips. 

True or false? When putting out a campfire, it is only important to drown red embers. 

False. It is critical that you drown all embers when extinguishing a campfire, not just those that appear to be hot. 

According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), if the fire is too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave. A good rule of thumb is to pour water over the fire until you cannot hear a hissing sound. 

If you do not have enough water, the USFS recommends that you mix your fire with sand and dirt, gradually, until there is no detectable heat. However, you should not bury your fire, as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire.

Once you feel that you are safe to leave your fire, use a shovel or large rock to dig around your fire and make sure that there are not any active embers buried. 

True or false? If I am using a permanent metal or concrete fire pit or grate that was installed by the USFS, my fire is safe. 

False. Although using these types of pits is one of the safest ways to burn a campfire, there are several factors that can put your fire at risk of growing out of control. 

Before you start your fire, make sure that debris is cleared from the area of the pit. Be on the lookout for pine needles, as they are highly flammable, according to Bill Trimarco, Archuleta County coordinator for the Wildfire Adapted Partnership. 

The USFS also recommends that fires are positioned in cleared areas with no overhanging branches, minimal grass and brush.

Tents, hanging clothing and other flammable camping equipment should be at least 10 feet away from your fire, according to the National Park Service. 

In addition, avoid burning a fire if winds are high or conditions are especially dry, regardless of how isolated you feel your fire is. Always check fire restriction statuses in the county or town you are camping before you go, and make sure to follow all of those regulations. 

True or False? There are several ways that your vehicle or equipment can start a wildfire. 

True. If you are off-roading, remember that your exhaust can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI). So, avoid driving or parking over dry grass.

Vehicles and equipment can shoot sparks from their exhaust, particularly vehicles that have not received regular maintenance. The DOI recommends that you make sure your vehicle is current on all mechanical checkups and suited for off-road adventures, and reminds you that off-highway vehicles must have a spark arrester.

“If you’re towing a trailer, please remember to do a maintenance check to ensure the tires are not worn, the bearings and axles are greased, and safety chains are properly in place and not dragging on the ground,” the DOI website states. 

In addition, equipment can also start a wildfire. Just last month, the Ute Mountain Pass fire near Durango was started after a heavy-duty lawn mower hit a rock, causing a spark, according to the Durango Fire Protection District. 

The DOI states that you should never operate equipment that produces sparks near dry vegetation. You should always clear the area around your workspace, and this area should be larger if it is windy and dry.

dorothy@pagosasun.com