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Fire ring 150' rule

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  • Fire ring 150' rule

    When you're utilizing the 150' primitive camping rule are you allowed to build a fire ring for a small campfire? I checked the DEC website and it says you should use an existing fire pit if provided. The place I'm going to this weekend does not have any designated campsites hence no fire pit.

    I plan on putting the rocks back from where I get them and burying the ashes to adhere to LNT before leaving. Not sure if I'm violating any rule or etiquette principles. Thanks,
    Oh I'd rather go and journey where the diamond crest is flowing...

  • #2
    Provided that fires are allowed generally, you can have campfires at non-designated sites that are otherwise in accordance with the 150 foot rule. However, in order to legally do so, you still must take steps to ensure that the fire is conducted in a safe manner- and these steps are typically going to go well beyond the simple act of placing a ring of rocks around your fire (which by itself is really pretty ineffective at safely containing a fire anyways).

    The core issue is that the surface layer of forest soils often contains a high amount of organic content- leaves, needles, sticks, and similar woody debris, all in various states of decomposition, and all flammable under the right conditions. If you start a fire right on the ground, it's not at all uncommon that said fire very well may ignite the soils beneath it- and in turn will burn down and outwards through the soil, beneath any ring of rocks as if those rocks weren't even there. A not-insignificant number of wildfires in the Adirondack park are started exactly this way, every single year.

    And in fact, there are several legal mechanisms in place that generally make it illegal to simply start a fire on the ground, even with a ring of rocks. The general state land regulations contain provisions that read as follows:

    (a) No fires are permitted except for cooking, warmth or smudge. No fire shall be lit until all flammable material has been removed from its perimeter as is necessary to prevent its spread. No fires shall be left unattended until extinguished.
    (b) No person shall deposit lighted matches, cigars, cigarettes or other burning tobacco where they will cause fire.
    The key phrasing to note here is "no fire shall be lit until all flammable material has been removed from its perimeter as necessary to prevent its spread." Under most normal conditions in the Adirondacks, this very likely includes the top 6+ inches or so of the soil- a somewhat typical depth of the flammable organic horizon before one digs deep enough to hit non-flammable mineral soil (and even then you still have to be careful about roots which could ignite).

    Note that the above is a regulation, not a law- and that failure to comply with it is a mere violation (i.e., akin to a traffic ticket). The Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), however, takes the codifying fire prevention a step further. Among other things, the ECL reads as follows:

    1. The following are prohibited:


    (b) setting of a fire which will endanger the property of another;


    (d) setting of a permitted fire in or near forest land without all inflammable material having first been removed for a distance of 3 feet around the fire;
    Again, due to the flammable nature of the organic horizon comprising the surface layer of many (most) forest soils, starting a fire right on the ground, even with a ring of rocks, could very easily be construed to be a violation of either of these sections of this law. And remember- this is a law, not a regulation, and accordingly the penalties for violating it are that much more severe. I'd have to double check on it, but I do believe that you can actually be charged with a felony for violating this section of the ECL. That means significant legal consequences with repercussions that could stick with you for the remainder of your life.

    With all of that being said, of course no one is expecting that you're going to meticulously scrape away the entire organic horizon of the soil, down to non-flammable mineral soil, in a ring that exceeds 3 feet from your fire in all directions (doing so would be an egregious violation of the LNT principles in itself in any case). However, it is nevertheless expected that you're going to take at least some reasonable measures to prevent the spread of the fire to the organic matter in the soils, measures that go well above and beyond simply using a ring of rocks. There's a few ways to do this:
    • Use a mound fire: For smaller fires especially, mound fires can be an effective way of safely containing a fire. You do still need to find mineral soil somehow, somewhere- I find that looking for uprooted trees is a good way to do this, as in the process of uprooting, the tree often takes much of the organic soil horizon with it, exposing plenty of mineral soil that was buried beneath. FWIW, I spent several summers in college working for a Wilderness therapy program in the Adirondack Park- and most of our campfires were mound fires (with the mounds dismantled prior to departing camp), as the significant majority of our campsites were non-designated, non-established sites.
    • Use a fire pan: Fire pans (PDF link) are an effective means as safely insulating a fire from the organic horizon, as they are essentially pans that contain a small fire off the ground. The advantage to fire pans is that they require a lot less prep-work in camp than a mound fire, with the obvious draw back that they do equate to more weight on your pack.
    • Build a fire on solid rock: If you can find any boulder or exposed rock outcrop without any soil on it whatsoever, it's often not hard to have a small fire right on the rock surface without any worry that it will spread. This is probably the easiest method overall- there's little prep work necessary and you don't need to carry a pan- but it's also the hardest method for "clean up" in an LNT sense afterwards in that you can't readily dispose of the evidence. Even on solid rock, fire scars can last for years. (You do also need to be careful about cracks on rock outcrops especially, which can run quite deep and very well may contain accumulated organic material. Trying to extinguish ground fires that are burning deep in fragmented bedrock is a royal PITA.)
    • Choose not to have a fire at all: My personal philosophy is that those who view any and all fires as an indefensible affront to minimum impact ethics are perhaps taking things perhaps a bit further than is necessary. However, I do feel pretty strongly that especially among those who camp regularly in the backcountry, the decision to at least occasionally not have a fire does need to be a part of the overall repertoire of methods employed for minimizing campfire impacts.

    With both mound fires and fire pans, you should also generally still be removing at least any loose leaf litter/pine needles from the perimeter of your fire, especially if conditions are running on the drier side.

    I will add that outside of the Adirondacks, in warmer climates especially where the rates of decomposition are higher, you do get forest soils where the organic horizon may not be that deep. I've definitely camped in a few situations outside of the Adirondack Park where I was readily able to pull back the organic horizon down to mineral soil perhaps 1-2 inches deep, safely have a small fire, and replace the organic layer (after making sure the fire was safely out) before departing. Generally speaking, however, this really isn't a realistic option in colder climates (such as the Adirondacks) where soil organic content tends to be higher due to slow decomposition rates.

    I'd also be wary of any existing fire pits at any non-designated site- even if it is otherwise a legal site in accordance with the 150 foot rule. When the DEC designates a site, there typically is some effort to ensure that there is a safe fire pit (assuming the site is in a location where fires are allowed). Either DEC personnel construct a safe fire pit, or any existing fire pit is evaluated to ensure that it is generally safe for use. With non-designated sites you don't necessarily have any sort of guarantee that any existing fire pits were built safely (and there's quite a few fire pits out there across the Adirondack Park that weren't).

    The end result of all of this is that while fires are permitted at non-designated sites that nevertheless comply with the 150 foot rule, being able to conduct fires safely at these locations requires a bit of skill and experience that does go somewhat above and beyond what might be expected of the "typical" visitor to the Adirondack backcountry. This is why official DEC policy is to use language that encourages the use of established fire pits in designated sites wherever possible, and discourages the use of campfires in any and all other locations.


    • #3
      Damn, I love your answers. So informative. Thanks.


      • #4
        Skip the fire!


        • #5
          I’ve used dirt, gravel, small stones, flat rocks, and even mud for the base when building a small campfire with the 150’ reg.


          • #6
            Most places yes can have fire,
            Would contact local ranger to check if there's any local restrictions
            There are often restrictions at local level that you wont find online


            • #7
              I'd find a bush buddy or similar twig stove super compelling for this purpose.


              • #8
                I am probably just too lazy to go through all that trouble so I agree with dundee, minimize impact when camping in those spots. I'd rather spend my time taking photos, fishing or just enjoying being in the forest. If I make a fire, it's at a leanto or designated site with an established fire ring. I tend to go by the natural cycle of light when I am out in the woods - I go to sleep when it gets dark and get up when it's light. If I stay up after dark, I am not using any light and enjoying the night sounds or I use my headlamp to read in the hammock before sleeping. I appreciate the detailed info from DSettahr also. Thanks.
                "Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll go canoeing."
                - Henry David Thoreau


                • #9
                  Thanks for the comments everyone. I spoke to a coworker about this today. His wife manages Grafton Lakes state park. I guess some kids made an illegal fire once that spread to the underground root system. It ended up burning a large section of land and took several days to fully extinguish. I never knew you could spread a fire underground like that.

                  That being said I'll stick to properly constructed fire pits in designated sites only.
                  Oh I'd rather go and journey where the diamond crest is flowing...


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Pauly D. View Post
                    Thanks for the comments everyone. I spoke to a coworker about this today. His wife manages Grafton Lakes state park. I guess some kids made an illegal fire once that spread to the underground root system. It ended up burning a large section of land and took several days to fully extinguish. I never knew you could spread a fire underground like that.

                    That being said I'll stick to properly constructed fire pits in designated sites only.
                    Many years ago, my friend and I extinguished a root fire out up near Camp Santanoni. Luckily I had a WWII foxhole shovel/pickaxe trenching tool thing, (I was young and didn't even think about the weight of that ash handled steel monstrosity) We had to dig a section of ground up about 15 feet out from the fire ring in one direction, and 3-4 feet in a couple of other directions. You couldn't really see much smoke, but you could tell that the duff and some of the dead roots were burning because the ground was actually warm. When you dug a section up, the coals would glow like the end of a cigarette when they hit the air. Took us a couple hours and many trips to the water with a plastic jug we found. We reported it to the ranger once we got to a payphone. (Told you it was many years ago..)


                    • #11
                      Never underestimate how a fire can spread in an organic soil, yes I know its not the ADKS but moor land fires form my old country can take hold, the one in this BBC report took over three weeks to out out.

                      These uplands were believed to have been forested in neolithic times. So maybe there are some similarities with the ADKs.

                      Fines for taking barbecues, fireworks and sky lanterns onto moorland may be introduced.
                      Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.


                      • #12
                        Years ago I came upon a plume of smoking coming out of the ground on an island in Follesnby Clear pond. It took us about a half hour to really get it out. I was with a group of students and we set up a bucket brigade from the shore up to the fire. So glad I was with a group on that trip.

                        That's all for now. Take care and until next well.



                        • #13
                          An ATIS group once helped to put out a fire at Middle Saranac Lake. They had a "bear canister brigade" to accomplish the task.
                          Every time that wheel turns round, bound to measure just a little more ground.


                          • #14
                            Where my parents rented when I was a kid, the owners had two fire rules that were NEVER violated. There had to be an offshore breeze blowing, and there had to be a full 5 gallon pail of water at the fire pit. As I carry my water when truck camping and don't want to waste it on non potable or washing tasks, I always locate close to a water source for grosser cleanup and fire use. And the sites in the MRP, where I usually spend my limited camping days, have fire pits or fireplaces. I have many times had to extinguish the remains of the last camper's fire. If I can't find a sight with close proximity to water, or drive back to a water source, no fire that night. And if the wind is stronger than "an offshore breeze", no fire that night. My past experience is that it will rain heavily in the first 24 hours I am camping (I really ought to license myself for drought relief, often I only have to think about using a tent to bring on copious precipitation ) and I can situate buckets to catch the runoff from the tarp and save that for fire dousing, but I have on some occasions not had my evening small fire after setup because I don't have the water to extinguish it, even in a cast concrete fireplace. And to truly extinguish anything bigger than a small twig type fire takes at least the 5 gallons, often a couple of buckets.