Campfire on Columbia

Info on gear, conditioning, and preparation for hiking/climbing.
Forum rules
Please do not use this forum to advertise, sell photos or other products or promote a commercial website. For more details, please see the Terms of Use you agreed to when joining the forum.
User avatar
timewarp01
Posts: 71
Joined: 8/30/2017
14ers: 29 8
13ers: 32 4
Trip Reports (4)

Campfire on Columbia

Post by timewarp01 » Tue Mar 02, 2021 7:38 pm

Hiked Columbia today via the SE ridge to take advantage of the fantastic trench put in by all the people on Sunday. It was a perfect day and a pretty fun route. Less awesome was the still smoldering campfire that had been left about 1/3 of a mile up the SE ridge from the spot where the route leaves the Harvard Lakes trail. The still-hot embers from this campfire had been gradually burning through the thick plant litter that carpets that forest, and had spread into a ring about eight feet wide, steadily cooking underneath the snow. I was able to see the smoke coming up through melted holes in the snow on my way down because the wind had died down since the morning. The fire, which has presumably been growing since Sunday 2/28, was about a foot away from a large dry patch of dead needles and twigs, as well as a number of dead trees. I spent 20 minutes kicking over and stomping out all the embers I could find, but I also gave the Chaffee County sheriff a heads up so they can keep an eye on it. It's hard to tell how far it might have spread underneath the snow.

I'm not looking to point fingers since I don't know how many people have been up there in the last few days, but this might be a good time for everyone to re-familiarize themselves with wilderness ethics, especially LNT and fire safety. Our forests and first responders cannot afford another fire season like last year's. Especially since it's only March. If this had happened any later in the year it might have ended very differently; it's already dry enough as it is up there.
User avatar
Wentzl
Posts: 722
Joined: 7/29/2008
14ers: 58 22
13ers: 53
Trip Reports (44)

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by Wentzl » Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:02 pm

Campfire burning under the snow.

Sign of the times.

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/01/ ... res-a72747
Shorter of Breath and One Day Closer . . .
User avatar
Scott P
Posts: 8314
Joined: 5/4/2005
14ers: 51 16
13ers: 41 13
Trip Reports (16)
Contact:

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by Scott P » Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:32 pm

Oh my gosh.

The campfire was mine.

I usually don't have a campfire and am a strong proponent of LNT. Our stove malfunctioned Saturday night, so I built a small fire to melt snow for water. When I built it, it was on a patch of frozen dirt surrounded by snow.

When we were done melting the snow, we buried the fire with snow and put it out. It was 15 degrees below zero that night.

When we were on the mountain, someone told us that they passed the fire, but it was smoking and they put it out. When we got back to camp there was nothing smoking and everything was covered in ice. It appeared to be dead out.

As mentioned, I almost never build a fire and only built a tiny one on a patch of frozen ground to melt some snow for water. I can't believe it is still smoking.

I am very worried and will be headed up there with a shovel early tomorrow morning. If anyone want to help, I can compensate you for time and effort. It is about an hour from the car park.

I am in panic mode right now and will be contacting the Forest Service and Sheriff's office immediately.

I never thought for a second that a tiny fire built on a patch of frozen ground could burn under the snow and I have been camping for years.

I really hope this doesn't start something serious. This is all my fault.
Last edited by Scott P on Tue Mar 02, 2021 9:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I'm slow and fat. Unfortunately, those are my good qualities.
User avatar
mtnkub
Posts: 308
Joined: 8/7/2009
14ers: 58 1
13ers: 78 2 2
Trip Reports (5)

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by mtnkub » Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:42 pm

I'm pretty sure that this time of year, it won't start anything "serious". But thanks to the OP for reducing the chances. And for reminding us to be diligent at all times. I have heard so many stories from friends that have put out other peoples camp fires. Would not have expected it this time of year!
User avatar
Scott P
Posts: 8314
Joined: 5/4/2005
14ers: 51 16
13ers: 41 13
Trip Reports (16)
Contact:

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by Scott P » Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:43 pm

I am meeting with the Chaffee County Fire Department tomorrow morning. The sheriff's office doesn't sound too concerned, but I am really concerned and in panic mode. If it's smoldering under the snow, I don't know what I am going to do.

I can believe this happened. I am incredibly ashamed and saddened.

Usually I'm the one lecturing others on LNT and putting out their fires. This is the dumbest thing I have ever done.
Last edited by Scott P on Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I'm slow and fat. Unfortunately, those are my good qualities.
User avatar
Scott P
Posts: 8314
Joined: 5/4/2005
14ers: 51 16
13ers: 41 13
Trip Reports (16)
Contact:

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by Scott P » Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:44 pm

timewarp01, please call me.

720-666-8451.
I'm slow and fat. Unfortunately, those are my good qualities.
User avatar
johnt
Posts: 66
Joined: 8/8/2011
14ers: 33
13ers: 91
Trip Reports (2)

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by johnt » Tue Mar 02, 2021 9:16 pm

I am meeting with the Chaffee County Fire Department tomorrow morning. The sheriff's office doesn't sound too concerned, but I am really concerned and in panic mode. If it's smoldering under the snow, I don't know what I am going to do.

I can believe this happened. I am incredibly ashamed and saddened.

Usually I'm the one lecturing others on LNT and putting out their fires. This is the dumbest thing I have ever done.
ScottP -

I admire your personal responsibility. So few people these days own their mistakes. I live in Buena Vista and can see Mt. Columbia from my home. I've put out numerous abandoned fires on my hikes in this valley, some in the height of summer drought. I'm always furious. I call 911. But you taking ownership of this and showing character in your posts, I have hope. I respect you, honor you, and if you ever want to hike with an old local who's slow but knows the area, contact me. John
User avatar
CaptCO
Posts: 1769
Joined: 7/14/2019
14ers: 58 14
13ers: 45 1
Trip Reports (5)
Contact:

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by CaptCO » Tue Mar 02, 2021 9:18 pm

Hey John... you did the right thing IMO. I’ve done the same near LBC dispersed etc.

One thing I will say is Scott P seems to always do/say the right things. We look up to him (the younger crowd) and hope that this doesn’t unnecessarily escalate. I’m scared personally for another crazy wild fire season... that was tragic
"It's a thing if you want it to be a thing. What others think of something is irrelevant." -OldSchool

Proof is in the progress, patience is essence; I’m crazy as a fox

"The future no longer belongs to my generation"

DM @Capt_Alec for nudes
User avatar
johnt
Posts: 66
Joined: 8/8/2011
14ers: 33
13ers: 91
Trip Reports (2)

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by johnt » Tue Mar 02, 2021 9:37 pm

I’m scared personally for another crazy wild fire season... that was tragic
Yeah, many of us who live in the mountains, even in towns, aren't really scared of mountain lions (seen them on my street), bears (our newspaper just reported this week that we have 20 who either live or come into BV each night, and my neighbor's trash can verify that!), or even avalanches. It's wildfires that we can't do anything about. One lightning strike or campfire out of control and it's all over. We have no control. All we can do is have our evacuation list and emergency kit ready to go. We watch the progression of a fire every day - multiple times. Wife, dog, important papers - in that order. Everything else is just stuff.
Oh, man, you got me really worked up! Our snowfall this year has been pretty spotty. A few inches here and there but no dumps.

Let's all pray to whichever god you care to or to Mother Earth for a quiet fire season.
User avatar
Scott P
Posts: 8314
Joined: 5/4/2005
14ers: 51 16
13ers: 41 13
Trip Reports (16)
Contact:

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by Scott P » Tue Mar 02, 2021 10:04 pm

For anyone who wants to see what was still smoking, here is timewarp01's photo taken today of the smoking ground and location of the campfire.

When I built it, it was built only of small sticks and no big logs. The biggest sticks were probably about half the width of my wrist. The ground was frozen and it was 15 degrees below zero that night (I had a recording thermometer with me). The entire area was surrounded by snow.

Before heading up the mountain in the morning, and when we were done with the fire, I buried the coals/ashes in snow. Someone else doused it in water.

When we got back to camp after climbing the mountain, the area the fire was previously in was covered in ice and there was no smoke. Just to make sure, I buried it in snow again before heading back to the vehicle.

Fire.JPG
Fire.JPG (105.03 KiB) Viewed 564 times
As mentioned earlier, Saturday night our stove wasn't working properly (a stove I have been using for many years). It is a cold weather canister stove. When I detached the canister, all the (pressurized and in gaseous form) fuel sprayed out for some reason. As mentioned, it was 15 degrees below zero that night. I built the small fire to melt enough snow for water. When we were done with the fire, I covered it in snow. There must be something flamable under the snow. :cry: I can't believe it was still smoking today.

Anyway, I talked to the Sheriff's department tonight and they set me up with a meeting with a phone meeting with the Chaffee County Fire Department at 7:30 AM tomorrow. The Sheriff's department doesn't seem to concerned, but I'm going to have a phone meeting with the Fire Department just to be sure. If they decide not to check it out, I'm heading up there with a shovel tomorrow just to make double sure.

If the ground is flammable enough to still smolder after a small campfire in winter, on frozen ground, and surrounded by snow, at 15 degrees below zero, I hate to think what it's going to be like come summer time.
Last edited by Scott P on Tue Mar 02, 2021 10:18 pm, edited 2 times in total.
I'm slow and fat. Unfortunately, those are my good qualities.
User avatar
Vincopotamus
Posts: 353
Joined: 12/5/2008
14ers: 35 3 3
13ers: 8 1

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by Vincopotamus » Tue Mar 02, 2021 10:07 pm

I work in fire for the green machine, and even with a decade of experience putting them out, I could see myself making this same mistake - burying a campfire in snow and walking away satisfied it was done.

The duff in those high elevation fuel types is deceiving, in that it can hold heat and smolder for weeks without a trace of visible smoke. To counter this, we "cold trail" the fire by touching everything with bare hands to detect any remaining areas of heat. If I had a dollar for every time I touched something out of due diligence despite KNOWING it was cold, then yelped from burning myself on a hot spot, I wouldn't be doing this anymore. The mop-up portion of firefighting is tedious because even over a small area, you need a lot of hands and/or time to ensure everything is cold. It's common to work an area then come back later in the heat of the day, or even just when some dappled sunlight filters onto a hot spot, and find a whisper of smoke perking up. It's like playing whack-a-mole.

Kudos to you for taking ownership of this - that is commendable and even more so for doing so publicly. You're making it right.

That said, as someone who would get the call to go put this thing out, I'd be tickled for an excuse to get out of the office and make a little hazard pay in the woods. Mopping up with snow on the ground is handy as there's infinite water, a luxury we rarely have. You can rest easy knowing you've notified the authorities, there's more snow on the way, and the warmer temps this weekend will mean the snow will begin to melt and help saturate the ground. I sincerely doubt this fire had any potential to move very far.

If there's a takeaway, it's to not just bury the fire in snow, but to stir it for a couple minutes until it's cold enough to touch.
johnt wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 9:37 pm
It's wildfires that we can't do anything about. One lightning strike or campfire out of control and it's all over. We have no control. All we can do is have our evacuation list and emergency kit ready to go.
I agree that living in the mountains means accepting fire as fact of life, akin to hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, tornadoes through the bread basket, etc. However, you can improve your chances of protecting your home by doing some wildfire mitigation! (If you haven't already). It not only helps your home survive a fire standing alone, but can also enables firefighters to safely engage and stay to protect your house when there is time before the flame front arrives.
The only time I lower the bar is après
User avatar
jbealer
Posts: 127
Joined: 9/1/2010
14ers: 58 16
13ers: 111 8
Trip Reports (5)

Re: Campfire on Columbia

Post by jbealer » Wed Mar 03, 2021 11:01 am

I was in the group of 5 that came up behind the fire smoking on Sunday morning. We spread it out, kicked a ton of snow on it, shifted it around and stomped on it with our snowshoes, thought that was enough....
also did not notice anymore smoke when we came back down, but also did not walk over to it either.
A good lesson was learned in this thread.
I hope its really out now, thank you Scott for taking ownership.
No Mountain too steep, No trail too long....
Post Reply