The Northwest is experiencing near record drought this summer and the risk of fire is very high in many areas along the Pacific Northwest Trail. Yet, with a few basic precautions, elevated fire danger does not have to lead to a wildfire.
During fire season, the Association would like to remind our trail community to put forests first on the PNT and take these three simple steps to prevent human-caused fires.
Although wildfires caused by lightning are a natural phenomenon, too many wildfires today are caused by preventable accidents. According the US Forest Service, “nationally, nearly nine out of ten wildfires are human-caused,” each year. To date, the PNTA is unaware of any wildfire caused by a PNTA hiker. Don’t be the first!
1 Know Before You Go — and Adapt to Conditions
Although the PNT sees heavy snow and rain in fall and winter, large stretches of the trail can become extremely dry in summer. When fire danger rises, campfires, certain camp stoves, and some activities may be temporarily prohibited until conditions become safe again.
Before you leave for the trail, it’s your responsibility to research current fire restrictions for the area you plan to visit.
Restrictions may vary between different places — and may change throughout the year. During wildfire season, temporary restrictions may be put into effect by land managers to protect our forests.
Visitors should also know that campfires may be permitted in some areas, but not others. In some wilderness areas and alpine environments above tree line, campfires can have a big impact on the environment and may be prohibited. Check before you go, because signage may not be posted on the trail or at the trailhead.
When wildfires occur, trails and area closures may go into effect. Closures help protect the public during an emergency and they can be used proactively to protect natural resources. When closures impact PNT visitors, PNTA shares information through our Trail Alerts System. You can find the latest information on our trail alerts webpage, or subscribe to get emails from PNTA.
2 Cook Responsibly and Be Flexible
Before your visit, you should always check the latest fire restrictions in effect and be prepared to be flexible. If campfires are prohibited during your visit, there are many other ways to enjoy an evening outdoors and to prepare meals.
Campfires are not essential and may not be worth the risk of an accidental wildfire. These great campfire alternatives suggested by our partners at the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics are a great way to while away the hours in camp.
For backcountry cooking needs, consider using a canister stove. They provide a safer alternative to campfires or open flame stoves, because they have an on-off switch and are less prone to accidents, especially during high-wind events.
Open flame stoves, like alcohol stoves, twig-burning and solid-fuel stoves may be popular among ultralight backpackers, but they are a poor choice for thru-hiking and many other trips on the Pacific Northwest Trail.
These UL stoves are always banned on the dry Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, which includes the Pasayten Wilderness and are often prohibited in July and August along many other parts of the trail when burn bans and Stage 2 Restrictions are in effect.
Another safe option is to pack stoveless or no-cook meals for overnight trips. Many store-bought dehydrated foods can be rehydrated with cold water. There are also many ready-to-eat foods that are well-suited to backpacking trips. No-cook meals also have the advantage of saving the carried weight of a backpacking stove and fuel, and they can save the time and burden of responsibility that comes with backcountry cooking when the risk of fire is high.
3 Speak Up
Be our eyes and ears on the trail by reporting all wildfire sightings to the proper authorities. When you encounter non-approved fires, report them to a ranger.
If you feel comfortable using the “Authority of the Resource Technique,” try approaching the individual in a non-confrontational manner and illustrate the consequences these kinds of actions could have on our public lands. The effects of a wildfire today can impact natural resources and communities for generations.