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Old 09-21-2009, 09:19 AM   #1
paddlewheel
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Duff Fire

My son and I did a overnight backpacking trip into the Pharoah Lake Wilderness Area this past weekend and in the process we got a little more than we bargained for, but in the long run we got what will probably be a good story to tell around a few upcoming campfires.

After setting up our campsite at one of the interior ponds, we decided to do a bushwhack to a no-name pond at the foot of Treadway Mt. Along the way we came upon some ledges that offered some great views of the area. Then we descended to the pond, walked around got alot of great pics and headed back to camp to relax and do up some chow.

After we ate, my son decided to take a stroll around the pond we were camped at. He wasn't gone 10 minutes when he came hustling back with some startling info. that there was a serious duff fire going on at the end of the pond. Someone had got a small cookfire going there while we were gone, and they had chose a real bad place to do so. By the time we got back to that spot there were 8" flames shooting out of this small depression at the end of a marshy area of the pond. We had brought our pots, water bottles, canteens and cups to collect water but unfortunately the nearest water source was about 50 yards away at the outlet to the pond. For about 2 hrs. we did the back & forth thing, collecting water dumping it, cutting away the duff with sticks and then doing it again, over & over & over. At times we were getting that panicky feeling that we were fighting a loosing battle & were wondering if we should just head on out for help but suddenly we seemed to get control of it. We kept pouring water on the hot spots and kept an eye on things for awhile before we figured we were safe enough to go eat some dinner.

About 8pm or so I put my head lamp on & returned to the scene only to find that a couple spots had flared up again & so our firefighting process resumed for another few hrs. Long story short here we finally won out our little battle but neither one us slept very soundly that night....in the morning everything seemed cool & smokeless & we kept an eye on it till we felt sure it was over and done with. It was quite the scary experience to say the least & whoever got that fire going couldn't have picked a worst spot. By the time we got done with all we did there was about a foot & a half deep crater about 40 ft.in diameter...I guess the "bushwhacking Gods" were watching out for us...never had to do the firefighter role before and I hope I don't have to again but that was defiately a camp story for the books. Here's some pics of the aftermath.
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Old 09-21-2009, 09:29 AM   #2
WinterWarlock
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Awful good thing you were there!
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Old 09-21-2009, 09:33 AM   #3
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Excellent work. Bravo! I'm sure it was a hard call to make, whether to put it out yourselves or go for help. I hope you reported the incident afterwards.

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Old 09-21-2009, 09:38 AM   #4
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Awful good thing you were there!
Yeah...considering how much rain the Adks. got this summer it's ironic how dry it has gotten in September.
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Old 09-21-2009, 09:39 AM   #5
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Contact DEC

Even though immediate action was appropriate, and you thought you put it out completely, fires like this have a way of coming back. You should call the DEC Dispatch number and report it, describing the location the best you can.

I saw the remains of a similar fire at Raquette Lake at the beginning of the West Mt trail several years ago. It looked like it had smouldered for a long time and traveled underground.
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Old 09-21-2009, 10:37 AM   #6
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Even though immediate action was appropriate, and you thought you put it out completely, fires like this have a way of coming back. You should call the DEC Dispatch number and report it, describing the location the best you can.
After my immediate thought to congratulate and thank you, I also want to highly encourage you to report all possible detail to the DEC as soon as you possibly can. Please call one of the numbers on this page: http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/631.html
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Old 09-21-2009, 10:50 AM   #7
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After a finding like that,it is good to follow up with the DEC as stated by the above members.Keep us posted. Nice to get out with your son though,as it was a beautiful weekend up there. Mink said earlier in week there was snow flakes on Averrill . Its a coming! Looncry
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:01 AM   #8
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Thanks for saving some damage to the area! We all appreciate the effort
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Old 09-21-2009, 12:01 PM   #9
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After my immediate thought to congratulate and thank you, I also want to highly encourage you to report all possible detail to the DEC as soon as you possibly can. Please call one of the numbers on this page: http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/631.html
I did notify the local forest ranger of the incident. He said he was going in early today and check up on things.
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Old 09-21-2009, 12:23 PM   #10
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I guess you can find the humor in just about anything. The "Murphy's Law" thing definately applies here. My son & I were talking of how we did quite a few trips this summer & every single time rain was involved at some point...We sure would have slept a whole lot better if it rained this particular Saturday night where we were.
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Old 09-21-2009, 06:42 PM   #11
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My Kingdom for a big bucket! You did a very good thing.
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Old 09-21-2009, 07:40 PM   #12
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My Kingdom for a big bucket! You did a very good thing.
Yeah...I would have loved to stumbled upon one of those 5 gal. pails you find lurking around the backsides of some campsites every now and then.

Last edited by paddlewheel; 09-21-2009 at 07:59 PM..
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Old 09-21-2009, 10:15 PM   #13
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My hat's off to you. That was a big duff fire. Thank you.

My son and I put out a much smaller one years ago on the shore of Bubb. That was a piece of cake compared to what you took care of.

Buckets:
At lean-tos the local rangers try to leave at least a bucket and shovel. I know at least one ranger also makes sure each lean-to is provided with a "firebroom". Dip the firebroom in the bucket of water to more readily beat out any embers. The buckets are there for firefighting. Please leave them available for that use. I mention this because not everyone realizes they are there for a purpose. I had to stop someone from taking a bucket out thinking they were being helpful and taking out trash.

A few years back, while my son and I were on Treadway, we watched a helicopter doing bucket trips from a certain pond with nearby cliffs to put out a fire.
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:20 PM   #14
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I commend you on preventing a tragedy. Thanks!!!!

I've had to do the same several years back while canoeing in the Temagami area of Ontario and discovered you can move a lot of water with a heavy duty garbage bag. I always pack a couple contractor bags.
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Old 09-22-2009, 09:32 AM   #15
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That is very eerie. How do the right people end up in the right spot at the right time? I think there's more at work some times then just coincedence!!!!!!
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Old 09-22-2009, 01:10 PM   #16
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The soils in Pharoah Lakes are a lot fairly sandy and well drained. Consequently, things dry out quickly there during periods of no rain, and it is easy to start fires.

Unfortunately, many people don't know how to make a proper fire pit. There's a lot more to it than simply making a ring of stones on the ground- you have to insulate your fire pit from the flammable duff layer. There are 2 ways to do this... you could dig down to the mineral soil layer. Mineral soil doesn't burn because it has already gone fully through the decomposition process, and decomposition is the same chemical process as fire, it just happens more slowly over time. You then line the edge of your pit with rocks to keep the fire from spreading sideways into the duff.

A better way to make a fire pit, however, is with a mound. Look for an uprooted tree that will give you easy access to the mineral soil. Using a coffee can or similar instrument, scoop out mineral soil and make a mound at least 2-3 inches thick and at least as wide as you fire will be when stamped down. Line the edge of the mound with rocks, and voila! You have a fire mound. The best part about these mounds is that when you are done, you can hide the evidence of your fire by scattering the rocks and returning the soil and the ashes to the pit beneath the uprooted tree (make sure your fire is fully out first!). In this way, you can have LNT fires- a bit of an oxymoron, as fires are very much not LNT, but by doing this you can greatly minimize their impacts.
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Old 09-22-2009, 01:51 PM   #17
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Good thing you weren't camped in some remote place far away from other people! Well done.
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Old 09-22-2009, 04:39 PM   #18
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I'm always coming to LT's and campsites where people haven't put out their fires. Only once was it serious; we had a dry spell and the campfire at a LT had burned thru about 8inches of duff. I made about 25 trips to the pond using the ziplock bag the logbook was stored in to use as a bucket.

A shovel would be great, but these dopes are so desparate for firewood, they'll burn the handle.
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Old 09-22-2009, 08:38 PM   #19
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Even better, please consider going without a fire. With LED, candles and compact stoves, there's no real reason to build one. Exceptions for emergencies such as risk of hypothermia or water treatment of course...
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Old 09-22-2009, 09:00 PM   #20
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Even better, please consider going without a fire. With LED, candles and compact stoves, there's no real reason to build one. Exceptions for emergencies such as risk of hypothermia or water treatment of course...
It is my understanding that fire can actually cause more harm than good in some cases of hypothermia or even just general coldness. Basically, your body is unable to dilate capillaries on only one side of the body- it's either all of them or none of them. By placing a warm heat source of one side of the body, all of the capillaries end up dilating, and you can actually lose more heat from the side of your body facing away from the fire than you gain from that fire.

The best way to treat hypothermia is with luke-warm (not hot) fluids with plenty of sugar, and a dry hypowrap. Forget the fire.

And during bug season, there is nothing better than a fire with nice hot coals smothered in rotten wood to generate a smoke cloud to keep the bugs away.
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