Why do we allow campfires in the first place?

A tough question came into the advice column inbox about a month ago, and I've been pondering it ever since.


Dear Don't Move FIrewood,

What is the reason for allowing campfires in the first place?

1. On the west side of the Columbia River in Washington State they allow fires in the forests.  The forests burn up due to fires.  On the east side of the Columbia in Douglas County fires are NOT allowed.

2. Campfires make pollution and breathing in campground HORRIBLE at times.

If people are serious about climate change ending campfires would bring the topic home and wake people up.  Plus the bugs would not travel in firewood hauled around.

Thanks in advance,



Dear Tom,

To start off, your very first question is the easiest. Campfires are not always allowed at all campgrounds and forests, because sometimes they do create unacceptable risks. When these risks (like forest fires) are well understood by the public, then the regulation to not allow fires is usually fairly well respected. But when the risks aren't well understood by the public (like forest pests) or aren't well accepted by a wide range of the public (like contributing to climate change), the regulation will only serve to encourage rule-breaking and essentially create even more unacceptable behavior, such as creating illegal fire rings outside the boundary of the campground. So the reason for allowing campfires in the first place, usually, is that there is no persuasive, fair, or compelling reason to prohibit them.


I agree that campfires create pollution, especially when people burn wet wood or during certain weather patterns. That's a great argument for occasionally banning campfires, when appropriate. Again, that'd be understood by the public, so it would be likely to be respected.


But I'm going to disagree with the ideas you've got at the end of your letter. I don't think acceptance of the issue of climate change is going to be furthered by antagonizing typical campers. Here at Don't Move Firewood, we draw a pretty bold line in the sand between the act of having a campfire, or having a wood stove, or even just burning wood as a concept, and the threat of forest pests. The spread of forest pests is caused primarily by bad practices and bad decisions- NOT by the campfire itself, or the wood stove, or whatever method is used to burn wood. We believe that education and cooperation is the key to success over time.