Remember safety when camping

June 17, 2008|By THAISI H. VELASQUEZ

It's not unusual for evenings around a campfire to include chilling tales of ghosts and other things that go bump in the night. But experts warn that as the sun goes down, campers should be aware of the real dangers that go along with camping.

As campers prepare to hit the great outdoors, they can help ensure a safe experience by planning ahead and educating themselves about potential dangers.

"Be aware of some of the animals in the parks," said Robert Bailey, a park ranger at South Mountain State Park.

Mice and nocturnal animals such as raccoons and possums will venture into the campsite when food is not properly stored.

"Keep food in the car or away from the campsite, as well as anything that has a food-type smell, such as toothpaste," Bailey cautioned.


Snakes are attracted to mice and will follow their prey into a campsite, making it especially important to avoid attracting small rodents with food.

"We've had incidents where people were bitten by venomous snakes," Bailey said.

Keeping an eye on the weather is also important.

"Look at the weather forecast and be prepared," said Scott Paddack, Mason-Dixon Boy Scout Council senior district executive for Washington County.

For instance, campers should be aware when overnight drops in temperature are anticipated.

"Just like that, you can go from wearing a light jacket to everyone being huddled around a campfire," Paddack said.

With fires being a traditional source of heat in the outdoors, campers should pay special attention to fire safety.

"We get a lot of people who think the best way to start a fire is to use lighter fluid and newspaper," Bailey said. "Lighter fluid can be quite dangerous and should be avoided."

While some campers prefer a traditional fire, others might prefer a more modern way to keep warm outside.

According to the Camp Safe Coalition, an organization dedicated to educating the public about the safe use of camping products, a variety of heaters can be used safely in well-ventilated enclosures, if the warnings and instructions accompanying the product are followed.

Paddack said he relies on well-insulated sleeping bags and old-fashioned campfires.

"I'm going to say, based on common sense, that any kind of heat in a closed area where you can't manage it isn't a very good idea," Paddack said. "So, basically, no for the heater, yes for good equipment."

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Camping and fire safety tips

The following tips for campers are from the U.S. Forest Service:

Camping safety tips

· Arrive early. Plan your trip so that you arrive at your campsite with enough daylight to check over the entire site.

· Make camp before dark. Traveling after darkness has resulted in many accidents from falls, so travel only during daylight. Set up camp well away from the edge of cliffs, and learn the terrain during daylight.

· Travel with a companion. You don't want to be by yourself in case of an emergency. Know the location of the nearest telephone or ranger station.

· Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions and season.

· Be weather wise. Keep an eye on current and predicted weather conditions.

Fire safety tips

· Build fires in a safe area. Your open fires and fuel-burning appliances must be far enough away from the tent to prevent ignition from sparks, flames and heat. Never use a flame or any other heating device inside a tent. Use a flashlight or battery-powered light instead.

· Make sure your fires are always attended. Be sure you have an area for a fire that cannot spread laterally or vertically; a grill or stone surface is ideal. When putting out the fire, drown it with water, making sure all embers, coals and sticks are wet. Embers buried deep within the pile have a tendency to reignite.

· Pitch your tent in a safe spot. Make sure your tent is made of a flame-retardant fabric, and set up far enough away from the campfire.

· Be cautious when using a propane stove. Read the instructions that come with the stove and propane cylinder. Use the stove as a cooking appliance only; never leave it unattended while it's burning.

The U.S. Forest Service Web site is

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