Be careful what you burn on your campfire

ESCANABA — Before lighting a campfire, people know they should have a source of water nearby, a shovel, and to check the wind. However, what materials you put in the fire to burn is just as important.

Only natural materials should be burned in a campfire, brush, logs, and dry, well-seasoned wood that releases the least amount of smoke, not chemically treated wood. A clean fire should not release any toxins into the air that could harm you and those around you. Each burn should be safe and clean.

“People can get firewood from state parks that is certified heat-treated wood,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Escanaba Forest Management Unit Fire Supervisor Jay Osterberg. “All state parks have it now, and local retail stores … the wood is heated to kill bugs and anything in the wood.”

People camping who cook in or over a fire ring should consider any contaminated ashes in the ring before cooking in it. Open burning of camping trash that contains plastic, rubber, foam, chemically treated wood or electronics can create many toxins. These toxins can hang in the air for a long period of time and be taken into the lungs by breathing. Ashes from burnt materials can contaminate soil and groundwater.

“Never burn … demolition and construction waste, materials from autos, household plastic items, rubber, foam, treated wood, textiles, synthetic materials, and electronics,” said Osterberg. “They contain chemicals that are hazardous.”

It’s against the law. Burning trash and hazardous materials is illegal in Michigan according to Public Act 102 of 2012, signed April 19, 2012.

People camping and homeowners performing open burning can easily pollute the air by burning hazardous items. Recycle the items, or throw them in the trash instead of burning them. Burning hazardous items releases acidic gases, heavy metals, particulate particles, and toxic chemicals into the environment. Exposure to toxins released by burning may cause developmental problems in children and can increase your risk of developing cancer.

“Discarded paper from a household can be burned in a covered barrel with holes,” said Osterberg. “But should not be burned in a fire pit. People can be fined.”

Osterberg advises campers to check local ordinances also.

According to the DNR, nine out of 10 forest fires are caused by humans. Fires always need to be supervised, never left unattended. A shovel and water source should always be by the fire. Check the weather before burning and verify the wind will not become a factor.

Open burning is when unwanted materials are burned and smoke and other emissions are released directly into the air. Pollutants do not travel through a chimney or stack. Air pollution created by open burning can irritate eyes and lungs, cloud visibility, drop soot on surfaces in the area, and create an odor.

“Make sure you have a water source close by … a shovel and metal bucket,” said Osterberg. “Keep the area clear of combustibles, leaves, needles, and surround the campfire with soil. Remember to douse your fire and stir ashes and repeat until the coals are out.”

Osterberg reminds people to never leave a fire unattended, and if you go to sleep while it is still going, you’re not directly attending the fire. Partly burned trash may be scattered by the wind and wildlife, causing a fire or a litter problem.

Instead of burning your trash when camping use reusable containers and place garbage in available dumpsters. Burn only non-treated wood and recycle all other items.

Cooking with, keeping warm, and relaxing are three ways to enjoy a campfire. Burn a clean fire and all those around you can enjoy it too.


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