It happens every summer in the south and lately has become the norm in many Western States. You look forward to a weekend camping trip, maybe a longer vacation. You’re planning on pulling the RV up to your favorite lake or mountain campsite, you’re headed out on an overnight backpacking trip, or maybe the plan is an overnight float with camping riverside. As you get close to your destination you notice, burn ban signs.
In my days working at Arkansas State Parks, I fielded many questions from upset campers about why we wouldn’t let them have their traditional fire in the campground. It didn’t matter that the daytime temperatures were reaching above one hundred degrees, there is just something about staring into that fire at night, maybe it’s about cooking the s’mores you promised the kids, or it was your main source of heat for cooking. All are legitimate reasons for having a campfire but sometimes it’s just not safe for the surrounding forest, animals, and human guests.
Burn bans are issued by the County Judge when fire danger is high. If your county is under a burn ban and you would like to find out what restrictions are in place, the County Judge’s office would need to be contacted.
To quickly find out if the county you are in or are planning to visit is under a burn ban, go to the Arkansas Forestry Commission website. You can also find out if there are prescribed burns or a wildfire danger in the county at this website. For more localized information, contact the land manager of the area you are visiting. We have a list of public recreation land managers here. Another source of updated information is with the County Judges’ office. You can find a list of County Judges and County Clerks here.
Breaking the burn ban rules is not a good idea, besides the possibility of ruining not only your trip but the camping trip of others both during your visit and for visitors after you leave, land managers can expel you from the camping area and you may be subject to fines. The counties don’t mess around with this.
Typical language* of the county orders:
Due to the weather and rapid drying conditions, it has become necessary to ban all outdoor fires in (blank) County.
The Court finds that an emergency situation exists in (blank) County, and the hazard potential to life and property is such that a ban and prohibition against outdoor burning is hereby declared until such time as this order is lifted.
- This order shall be enforced by and through the (blank) County Sheriff’s Department, the Chief Fire Official of the various Fire Districts, and the Director of the Office of Emergency Management for (blank) County.
- Outdoor burning may be permitted under special circumstances, when the Court is assured that all necessary and proper precautions are being enforced to ensure that burning constitutes no hazard to life or property. No outdoor burning shall be permitted in the absences of a written permit from the (blank) County Office of Emergency Management.
- This order shall include the use of fireworks being banned until such time as this order if lifted.
- The use of fireworks may be permitted under special circumstances; when the Court is assured that all necessary and proper precautions are being enforced to ensure that the use of fireworks constitutes no hazard to life or property. No fireworks shall be permitted in the absences of a written permit from the (blank) County Office of Emergency Management.
- Any violation of this order will be punished, pursuant to Section 1-9 of the (blank) County Code of Ordinances, by a fine up to $ 500.00.
(* Please check with the county where you are or plan to be for the current rules)
So if you’re county is under a burn ban, what do you do? Don’t cancel your trip. Sure, a campfire may be a favorite part of the experience but you can still have a better time than sitting at home. Here is our prep list:
- Make sure you check the status daily. A good rain can change things overnight. Check here for the status, and here to contact the land manager.
- Pack a stove. There are hundreds of great gas stoves available out there. Everything from small backpacking white gas stoves to larger multi-burner propane stoves. If you plan to cook, bring the tools to cook.
- Depending on the severity of the burn ban, you may be able to burn charcoal in campsite grills. Check with the local land manager about this possibility if you are looking forward to more traditional cookouts. Plus, you can roast s’mores over charcoal.
- Do not blame the land manager, they are following the rules of the county where they exist.
Have a great summer, stay safe, and stay legal. Leave the campsite better for the next visitor.