With the three tents burning up at the SW, I thought it might be time for a little discussion on fire safety, and picking y’all’s brains for ideas to keep us all safe. I have been coming to ‘voos for nearly 6 years now, and have (knock on wood) never seen a tent fire till now. But I think all of us at the SW were conscious of how much we take for granted after that experience, and how lucky we all may have been before now. At the AMM doin’s in January up in Linden, we had a spark jump the logs in our camp while we were all at the meeting and camp feed, but thankfully the neighbors woke up from a nap in their tent to go pee, and saw the grass afire and beat it out. It came within literally two inches of our diamond fly before they got it out
So, here’s some fire safety tips for us Rendezvous-ers, gleaned from recent experience at the Southwestern, and other advice – please reply with additions to the list!:
1. Rules of most ‘voos say you MUST have a fire extinguisher (A-B-C type is the one you need) and/or a two-gallon bucket of water near the fire at all times. DO IT. Booshways and dog soldiers, please enforce it. This isn’t an arbitrary nit-picky rule, it could save your own life and your neighbors’.
2. Good idea to keep a burlap tow-sack or a piece of other strong cloth/blanket near that bucket, to wet the cloth/sack and slap out grass fires and early canvas fires. It is very effective and doesn’t use up as much water as throwing it on the fire.
3. A thick wool blanket thrown over a fire will often smother it, they say.
4. Do not throw water on a grease fire in a skillet. A CLUMP of flour (not a thin scattering of flour, it will burn too) will smother it, so will putting a lid on it(safer), or using baking soda (but it takes a LOT of baking soda). Easiest is to find a lid (not glass, it will break. Do not try to carry the grease outside, you will get burned and drop it. Find a lid, tin plate, etc, and put it on it.
5. Better to make a canvas PC cover (labeled fire) for the fire extinguisher and keep it out, than in the tent or under canvas where it is hard to find.
6. If your tent has BLACK POWDER in it and it is on fire, let someone know! That way they don’t get killed going in there when it blows up.
7. Ladies, be careful with those long skirts on and long loose sleeves, around the fire. Burning to death was a common cause of death among pioneer women. Stop, drop and roll.
8. Some of us geezers/city-slickers need/want heat in the tent at night. Some bring propane and keep it out of sight. As evidenced at the SW, this can go awry, but so can an open fire. Be careful with any source of heat in the tent or tipi. Leave the flap cracked a little to let in oxygen if you are burning propane, especially if you are sleeping on the ground – propane is heavier than air. Some propane heaters will cut off if the CO2 level gets too high, and we have never had a problem with John’s, but a battery operated CO2 detector in the tent on the floor, might not be a bad idea. Propane safety info:
9. “Fire-retardant” does NOT mean “fire-proof”. ANY canvas will burn. Fire retardant means that probably a stray spark will not be enough to catch it on fire, but a steady flame source will ignite it every time.
10. wood vs. metal candle lanterns – we all love the ambiance of candle lanterns at a ‘voo, but we have all seen the wood-framed ones catch on fire or nearly do so if the candle tips against the wood. Keep those outside the tent, and maybe think about getting a metal/tin-framed one to use inside. Be careful with that one too, if it tips over and the glass shatters, fire gets out of that one too.
11. Do not leave a fire unguarded. If you are leaving camp and have something cooking, ask your neighbor to come over and watch it. Better yet, stay in camp. Bank the fire at night or any time you leave camp, with dirt or thick ashes, so it doesn’t flare up again and get out of hand. Of course, dig the usual fire pit and keep some logs around it too to contain sparks. Rake/hoe/dig the dry grass away from the fire area for a couple-three feet.
12. One guy said he taught his kids to sleep with their knives ON THEM, to cut their way out of a tent in an emergency (fire, grizzly attack, etc.). At least put it in the same place every night, within easy reach – like under the pillow, or right by the center pole next to the flashlight and hooter bag. If you had been in that tipi when the grass fire hit the only door, what would you do? I doubt if you could pull up the stakes and wriggle out under a tight canvas in time. A knife makes a handy “back door” anywhere you need it.
13. When there is a fire, yell “FIRE”. You may think, “well, DUH!”, but in a panic folks often yell other things that are not as effective. The Cajun guy yelled “help me”, other folks at Bugs’ fire yelled “bring water”. Yell “FIRE” as loud as you can and repeatedly in all directions – that word alone tells folks what to do, and will wake them up. Designate someone to keep yelling “fire” to summon more help as you fight the fire. Maybe that is why Cuz and John and I slept through the first two fires, we thought it was just rowdy-camp noise from 40 feet away. I mean I was asleep, they probably did yell “fire”, but I didn’t hear it.
14. Booshways and future booshways, make sure you tell folks at the ‘voo what county you are in so the campers will know what to tell 911 operators if they have to call out on a cell phone in an emergency. Tell or show the local EMS and firefighters and county sheriff how to find your remote campsite, before the ‘voo. That will save time and possibly lives in an emergency situation.
15. Cigarette butts should never hit the ground at a ‘voo (or anywhere else, for that matter). Do not flick your ashes onto dry grass or the hay-covered floor of a saloon or tent. Put it out safely and put it in the fire pit, or put it in your pocket to carry home to your trash. Spit on that ciggie-butt and make sure it is drowned out before putting it in MY trash, or I’ll kick YOUR butt.
I am repeating the part about grass fire speed from the last email, in case you didn’t have the patience to get through that long-winded one and read about it:
“Funny thing is, as I was driving home from the SW ‘voo there was someone on the radio talking about fire danger and how fast a grass fire can move. He said it can burn along at 4 miles an hour. Now that may not sound too fast, but if you do the math, that is one mile of country in 15 minutes, so…(5280 feet divided by 15 minutes is 352 feet per minute – yikes!) that means a grass fire fueled by a high wind and dry grass CAN BURN AN AREA THE LENGTH OF A FOOTBALL FIELD IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. LESS. THAN. A. MINUTE. That’s about SIX FEET PER SECOND. That is why George’s tipi burned – only took a SECOND or two for that fire to jump the 8 feet or so to the canvas, even with him carefully watching and only 20 feet away. FIRE IS OUR FRIEND BUT IT IS A DANGEROUS BEDFELLOW…”
Dry leaves and pine needles burn just as fast as grass, and yaupon burns like Kleenex also. Yaupon and other brush and low branches makes a nice “fire ladder” up into the tree canopy in a forest, and it the fire gets up in that pine/cedar canopy, you and all your neighbors are literally toast unless you call 911 and get bulldozers in there to clear a firebreak and let fire trucks in to it, to stop it. I helped save my friend Paul St. Louis’s house from a forest fire in the pine woods north of Bastrop one time, and it gave me a serious respect for fire. All I had experienced up to that time, were grass fires, but that big bad boy made a grass fire look like a birthday candle by comparison!
So anyway, I ain’t trying to make anybody paranoid, just trying to keep my friends safe! I am by no means an expert on fire safety either, so please reply with any corrections or helpful hints/additions to this list, so we can all be safe and relax and have a good time, knowing we have taken all reasonable precautions. After we get a few more good suggeations, hints, and advice, let’s pass this on to other ‘voo groups, so we can all be aware and safe. Yeah, I know I used “safe” a lot in this last paragraph, but I mean it!
Contributed by Patsy “Magpie” Harper