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Old 09-25-2019, 09:49 AM   #1
tgoodwin
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Washbowl Fire

Today I checked out the site of last week's Washbowl fire. The fire was at the north end of the Washbowl and is not all that visible from the bridge on the Ridge Trail. The fire was started by a campfire. Whomever built the fire carefully placed rocks around the edge, but the fire burned down through the flammable organic layer of pine needles (a.k.a. duff) and easily "escaped" the ring of rocks. Build fires on rocks or other non flammable surfaces. First photo is the extent of the fire from the other shore. Second photo shows the fire ring that failed to contain the fire.
And while I'm on my soapbox lamenting poor hiker/camper behavior, here is a final photo showing a "bootleg" trail that cuts one of the switchbacks below the Washbowl. That bootleg trail has now been brushed in, and we can only hope that hikers now stay on the established trail. Third photo shows the bootleg trail that goes straight down the fall line and would soon become eroded if allowed to continue.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Washbowl fire.jpg (126.5 KB, 184 views)
File Type: jpg Washbowl fire2.jpg (123.7 KB, 182 views)
File Type: jpg Cut switchback.jpg (130.5 KB, 183 views)
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Old 09-25-2019, 10:12 AM   #2
Woodly
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Reminds me of the fire years ago which was in the cliffs just south of the falls near the Washbowl.
That one burned underground until Old Man Winter put it out.
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Old 09-26-2019, 03:02 PM   #3
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Hi Tony, I heard there was a second fire over near the Giant Leanto. Any knowledge of that one?
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Old 09-26-2019, 03:47 PM   #4
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I stumbled across a similar fire a few years ago near the Devil's Kitchen Lean-to in the Catskills. Someone had started a fire on the ground against a boulder, and the fire had burned down into the duff layer and spread back into the soils beneath the boulder. The group I was hiking with did what we could- we dumped all of the drinking water we had on it and stirred the water into the soils as best we could- but the fire was too far back beneath the boulder for us to get it out completely. Satisfied that we'd at least extinguished it enough that it was not likely to turn into a raging inferno overnight, we continued to camp and upon leaving the backcountry the next day, reported it.

(Side note: And thus I learned just how hard NY state's bureaucracy has made it to report a backcountry fire. I first tried 911, who were useless- the dispatcher clearly had a written script to stick to, and could not get past the first question: "What is the address of the emergency?" My responses of "there is no address, it's a backcountry wild fire, miles from the nearest road" were met with repeated "sir, I can't help you if you don't give me an address." Eventually, the call cut out due to bad signal. I never even bothered to call back.

My next attempt was with the DEC's 24 hour emergency dispatch. They promptly forwarded me to the county dispatch for the county that the fire was in. The county dispatch listened to my report, and said "oh, that's a backcountry issue, you want the DEC" and proceeded to forward me to a ranger's personal cell phone. The ranger who answered said "that's not even anywhere close to the area I patrol" but at least they were able to give me the cell number of the proper ranger to report the fire to.)

In NY State, you can even be charged with a felony for starting an unsafe fire right on the ground. The Environmental Conservation Law (note that this is a law, not a regulation, so it carries even more weight than the typical state land use regulations) requires you to remove all burnable materials from a radius of 3 feet from your campfire before starting it- and this can include the surface layers of organic soils, which are inflammable.

Also, what a lot of people don't realize is that even if you don't manage to start the ground on fire, a fire in a non-established pit can still heat the surface layers up enough that it ends up sterilizing the soils- and these impacts can take years to recover. Nothing will grow in that spot until such recovery takes place.

I've personally always used mound fires when camping at non-established sites without a pre-existing fire pit (that is, if I choose to even have a fire in these situations). If you keep your fire small, you can even do it right on top of a piece of tarp, which makes cleanup super easy when you break camp. And in the Adirondacks, it's usually not too difficult to find an uprooted tree somewhere that provides easy access to mineral soil to make your mound.

I'm interested in purchasing a fire pan for an even easier option for safe fires, though.
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Old 09-26-2019, 04:32 PM   #5
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Myself and my 2 friends have personally extinguished 2 fires and repaired one huge burn hole over the last few years in and around my favorite place. One was huge and eventually took most of the camping spot, luckily it was close to the lake and we found a old coffee can, it took us 3 days and now that spot is closed to camping. The other fire hole was at a trail head, much easier to put out and repair. Last year where I like to camp there was a huge burn out hole right where I like to set up my tent, there was a rock fire ring but no precaution and it burned straight down over one foot. Not trying to start a ship storm here but it’s suspect the Boy Scouts were in this spot just before I arrived the following week but I don’t know for sure if it was them. I did report this to the local Forest Ranger and my friend and I did repair the hole. We have an existing safe fire ring approved by the Forest Ranger but it seems it is always moved to another location and the few I have talked to about this always have a excuse for moving it. And they always put a new burn hole somewhere else. I don’t even want to go back to this spot anymore, but will try again in 3 weeks. Not sure what I will find. Sorry for the rant and thread hijack, I just had to get this out.....
Also, DSettahr nailed it, uprooted trees are the best source for finding great mineral soil for a mound fire.

Last edited by Jack; 09-26-2019 at 04:35 PM.. Reason: Need to add more.
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Old 09-26-2019, 04:59 PM   #6
DSettahr
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack View Post
Last year where I like to camp there was a huge burn out hole right where I like to set up my tent, there was a rock fire ring but no precaution and it burned straight down over one foot.
It's gotten hard to find spots to pitch tents at some of the tent sites on South Meadows Road, courtesy of idiots who decide to flaunt the Eastern High Peaks fire ban and start a fire right on the ground in the middle of the designated tent site. The end result is a bunch of nice holes burned down into the ground, decreasing the amount of usable tenting space on the site.

Another thing that really gets my dander up is when you walk into a designated tent site (or lean-to site) and find two fire pits... someone didn't like the first fire pit, so they decided to build a second. And nearly always, the second pit was not safely constructed. (Alternatively, they moved the pit entirely but still didn't ensure that the new pit was safely constructed.) Once again, the end result is often that the amount of usable space for tenting on the site has appreciably been diminished.
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Old 09-26-2019, 05:21 PM   #7
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You guys educated me on the dangers of constructing ad hoc fire rings in the woods in a prior post. Here’s the proof. While camping last weekend at a DEC designated site I noted the tree roots near the vicinity of the fire pit had been cut back indicative of proper construction. Thanks again for the information.
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Old 09-26-2019, 07:31 PM   #8
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Well, it’s not to hard to figure out I’m a old fly in guy pushing 73, and where I have settled in. My fire technique is to dig a hole deep enough to hit sand or mineral soil usually around 2 ft or so. I then cut out the visible roots then start a small fire in the hole to burn out what I can, then I poor water in the hole to put out the fire and burning roots, then find a uprooted tree and fill the hole to the top with sand. Then putting the stone ring within the filled hole. Not sure this is legal but it has worked for decades, and I have never been in trouble and the fire always extinguishes easily and always stays on the surface, no burn holes. Yea, it’s lots of work but my excursions are usually a week or more, and once established it always there. When I was able to backpack and bushwack I always carried a e-tool, yup heavy but still worth it’s weight in gold out there. I’ll be up there around the last week in October for about a week, anyone is always welcome for a visit in my camp, I have beer. �� and no darn music.....!
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Old 09-27-2019, 01:14 AM   #9
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I have a small 6 inch by 6 inch titanium fire pan and Ti walled stove to contain my twig fire. I’ve set it up an a magazine and during a 30 min burn the magazine was not scorched.
Just a suggestion from a guy who does not want to spend time gathering fire wood or burn down the woods. (My stove is no longer available)
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Old 09-27-2019, 07:26 AM   #10
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This was new at one of the CRF campsites we frequent:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vm2gwti6f5..._0170.JPG?dl=0
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Old 09-27-2019, 01:12 PM   #11
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This was new at one of the CRF campsites we frequent:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vm2gwti6f5..._0170.JPG?dl=0
That looks like a pretty close call. It must've rained not long after the ground started burning. The occupants probably have no clue just how close they came to starting a proper wildfire.
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Old 09-27-2019, 04:21 PM   #12
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Some of the descriptions of these fires have me curious. Does the non decomposed soil actually burn and smolder underground somewhat where it's unreachable or does it flare up at the surface level so fast that it can't be controlled. I'd have thought the latter, but some the descriptions have me wondering otherwise.
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Old 09-27-2019, 04:52 PM   #13
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Some of the descriptions of these fires have me curious. Does the non decomposed soil actually burn and smolder underground somewhat where it's unreachable or does it flare up at the surface level so fast that it can't be controlled. I'd have thought the latter, but some the descriptions have me wondering otherwise.
Either/or, depending on the conditions. Smoldering ground/soil fires are more common in the Adirondack ecosystem. I've worked on a couple of ADK wildfires, and when the soils get going they are a real pain in the heinie to put out. It's a lot of spray with water, stir the soils, spray with more water, stir the soils again, so on and so forth, over the course of hours or even days. And then, even after you think it's out, you still need to come back every day for a few days just to be sure.

Even worse is when you're dealing with decades (centuries) worth of accumulated organic material in rocky and ledgy terrain with plenty of cracks in the bedrock. Trying to get water down into each and every nook and cranny (most of which are stuffed with leaves and pine needles) in heavily fragmented rock outcrops can be nearly impossible.

If they aren't discovered and addressed, ground fires in the Adirondacks can smolder for weeks (or even months), waiting for the right conditions to turn into a surface fire (where the surface duff layer is actively becoming inflamed). Surface fires will spread a lot more quickly than a soil/ground fire.

And while crown fires of the like we typically associate with western wild fires- where the standing trees themselves are actively burning- are rare in the Adirondack ecosystem, they aren't unheard of either. The Noonmark fire that happened back in the 90's (which also was started by a campfire that wasn't safely contained to a proper fire pit) was a crown fire.
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Old 09-27-2019, 05:14 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
Either/or, depending on the conditions. Smoldering ground/soil fires are more common in the Adirondack ecosystem. I've worked on a couple of ADK wildfires, and when the soils get going they are a real pain in the heinie to put out. It's a lot of spray with water, stir the soils, spray with more water, stir the soils again..
You make "stirring the soils" sound easy. Sometimes it's even hard to dig a cathole in the adirondacks because of the matted roots!
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Old 09-27-2019, 05:58 PM   #15
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Yea, and when putting those ADK fires out with an Indian Tank or not so portable pump and hose it isn't any fun whatsoever.
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