Campfire Safety

by Marvin Rasch, 3rd New York, 4th Company

Recently the following item was posted on the Internet in the Revolutionary War Discussion Group, by Jay Callaham of the 23rd Royal Fusilers of the BAR. I thought that it might be appropriate to share this with the membership of the NWTA, as we begin another re-enacting season.

"Samuell Farms in Flames - After Action Report: The first reenactment in Texas for the season was held this weekend at Samuell Farm in Mesquite (East Dallas). It was a beautiful day ­ Partly Cloudy and 75 for a high. Texas has been experiencing a drought this spring, and we were understandably concerned about the possibility of a grass fire getting started. We took every precaution possible ­ the fire departments were there, hoses were run out to the battlefield, buckets were standing by. We were ready. We were not ready for what happened though."

"In their zeal to get to the first of three battles, one regiment left their camp unattended. Their campfire, while dying, had not died as much as they believed. A sudden gust of hot wind picked up the flames, a hot ember escaped, and by the time the emergency crews arrived, approximately 15 tents, and all their contents, had been totally destroyed. This regiment was treated to a bleak scene when they marched back from the battle. Roughly $50,000 in damages were calculated. The entire regiment's gear , what was not on the battlefield, was destroyed. As a result, the Fire Marshall banned all fires (except Charcoal) and everyone was forced to run a cold camp for the rest of the weekend. Violators were fined (and there were some who built up fires in spite of the ban - idiots!)."

"This should be a caution for all. The campsites should never be left unattended, especially if the fire is still going. If it hadn't been for some spectators who ran and got the police, the entire encampment could have been destroyed."

When I first read this item I was surprised in a number of ways that this could have occurred, but then I thought back some common practices and incidents within the NWTA and my own unit. Periodically, we have all seen camps that appear vacant with a fire in various stages of burning, and I would like to remind all of our members of the possible results, as this item illustrates.

The even more disturbing practice that many units, including mine, do regularly is the stoking of the fire with firewood just prior to everyone retiring to their tents for the night. This should be halted immediately with no exception. One only transfer the above incident to the evening with the members asleep in their tents to imagine the potential tragic results. Gear can be replaced, but the family and friends within the NWTA could not. While it may be convenient to have a bed of coals from which to start a fire in the morning, with the right supplies and a bit of practice an adequate fire for the preparation of breakfast should be relatively easy to start. My unit is simply asking that the first person to wake up each morning to start the fire in anticipation on breakfast needing the fire.

As of the writing of this article, it had been a relatively dry spring in the Chicago area with the grass fires being a far to often occurrence. The possibility of an occurrence, similar to the one in Texas, happening at an NWTA event is very real, and each of us needs to be more aware and proactive in order to prevent such a incident or one much more tragic from occurring at one of our events. As I said before, I can replace my gear, but the members of my family or the many friends that I have made within this organization are irreplaceable.