Leave No Trace and your Tourism or Hospitality Business: Minimise the Effects of FireAug 11, 2022
As global temperatures increase, we are also seeing a rise in forest fires. Fires can be catastrophic, obliterating everything in their path, causing harm to towns and the environment, destroying habitats which may not regenerate and return to their flourishing state for many years after. Fires also bring with them huge financial loss between the resources used to extinguish fires and the cost of recovery. As we bring visitors into the outdoors, we have the ability to raise awareness in the tourism industry of how to minimise the effects of fire through promoting the Leave No Trace ethos. In this way, we can protect our natural environment and heritage.
What activities can cause a fire?
Barbecues and campfires are examples of two activities where if precaution isn’t taken, there is a possibility of the local environment being threatened. For example, each tree has its own root system. If a root ignites, it is possible that it can connect with other roots and travel to make its way to the trunk of a tree then on to its branches. This can happen without us even knowing as it is all underground which highlights the importance of taking the necessary precautions when opening a fire and also when extinguishing one.
How can we minimise the effects of fire?
1. Keep fires small: The smaller the fire the more control we have over it.
2. Find firepits instead of creating new ones: Picture the sight of coming to an area that had previously been used for a campfire. You also would like to set up camp and light a fire as the night draws closer. Instead of using the firepit that was used the night before, you decide to build your own. The next day after you have left another group comes and sees the two firepits and has the same thought to create their own. Now when they leave, instead of having one burnt out fire ring, there are three burnt patches in the area. If each group used the same fire pit, there would have be less damage to the local environment.
3. Check local regulations: In certain areas, it is prohibited to open fire. There are reasons for this. It could be due to warm weather warnings or because it is a protected forest or site. In following these regulations, we can minimise the effects of fire. February to June are the peak months for forest fires, March and April being the most critical times. This is something to be conscious of when planning a campfire.
4. Check weather conditions: High winds increase the likelihood of sparks flying and igniting leaves and trees in the local environment. Judge the weather before lighting and see if a fire is really needed.
5. Use stoves for cooking: An alternative to campfires for cooking is the use of a gas stove. For this you would need a small compact tripod and a gas cylinder. It is a safer and cleaner option to cook meals with the danger of fire substantially low.
6. Mound your fire: If you prefer fires to stoves, there are other methods to build a minimum impact fire. One example is through using a fire blanket and building a mound on top of it. The fire blanket protects the earth and soil from getting burnt and over heating.
7. Use dead wood: When collecting for firewood, it is advised to only use fallen branches or dead wood rather than breaking off fresh branches from trees. Another suggestion is to go a little further away from your campsite when collecting wood to build your fire, as the night draws in, it is more likely that you will be looking for wood closer to your campsite. Starting from afar will ensure that you will not be tempted to breaking off fresh branches from the nearby trees.
8. Take care and manage your fire: It is imperative to always keep a watchful eye on your fire or barbecue and that they are not left unattended. It is also important not to add any waste or rubbish to your fire. Some plastics can release chemicals and may not melt down creating a pile of ash and litter when the fire has been extinguished.
9. Burn to ash: When extinguishing a fire, we must ensure that everything has been burnt to ash. This is a sign of the fire being completely out. We can then saturate the ash with water, let it cool down and then scatter it widely with a small shovel.
How can we promote the Principle of Leave No Trace?
1. Create designated barbecue and campfire areas in a suitable location where minimal damage can be done and the threat of a forest fire is minimal. By allowing visitors to use the services available, they will not be tempted to create their own fire rings. Provide signage with guidelines of how to correctly manage a fire or barbecue and what to be cautious about.
2. If your destination or business brings visitors and staff into the outdoors in scenarios where campfires are lit, educate them on the threats of a fire and inform them on how to minimise the impact. This can be through leaflets or even a brief chat before heading out.
3. Remind visitors of the weather conditions and where it is prohibited to open fire.
4. Could you provide the correct safety equipment for building a fire or for outdoor cooking? Maybe you could rent out tripods, stoves, fire blankets, pots and pans, for example.
5. If you are a tour operator or activity provider which intends to bring visitors camping, inform them via email of any precautions or materials they may need for this part of the trip. You could even share any Leave No Trace resources with them, which are found on their website. Make it an educational experience where they can bring home learnings from their visit.
As with each Leave No Trace article that I have written, this is a guide to help your destination or tourism business promote the Principles of Leave No Trace. The final principle may not apply to all businesses, however it is useful to be aware of the dangers of fires and how to minimise the impact.
Aoibheann is an accredited Leave No Trace trainer and delivers Awareness Courses as part of destination development training programmes. You can learn more about previous destination development training programmes here.
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