Should you ever burn firewood? Is it OK to use firewood for a cooking fire? How do you maximize the weight savings by using a wood fire? How should you establish your fire to minimize the amount of firewood needed? When can I use a campfire? What should I do to minimize the risk of a bushfire?The last time I used a campfire for cooking was about 20 years ago. Since then I have used a succession of stoves such a Bluet gas, Trangia, and MSR Whisperlite, so it was not without some deep thought that I used a wood fire again, this time in the Vulkathunha-Gammons NP.
Why make the change back to a bygone era?
Well the main reason was the weight saving (0.8 -1.0 kg) by not needing a stove and fuel bottle, the remoteness of the campsites and the ready availability of firewood which made it forgivable in my mind. The Gammons is an arid region and as such tree growth is very slow, but creek beds abound with firewood deposited in the last flood and while some may argue that this debris is the home of many animals, I doubt that our group's impact was significant. That is not to say that in some more accessible locations, such as Mambray Creek in the lower Flinders Ranges our actions would be an environmental crime.
Is it ever OK to burn firewood?
Well what are the alternatives? Shellite (white gas), methylated spirits, butane/propane gas. Are these fuels any better than using firewood? Are they fossil fuels? Do they pollute the atmosphere? How much CO2 was released in the mining process to produce the metal needed to make the stove and fuel bottle? What about the energy requirement of extracting, refining and transporting the fuel? Do they use scarce food resources to make fuel? Isn't wood renewable? Are we depriving animals of their homes when we burn firewood? The decision is not clear cut and ultimately must depend on your personal perspective. Certainly there is a level of camaraderie around a campfire that can never be achieved sitting around a Trangia.
Minimising the use of wood.
If you are going to have a campfire keep its fuel consumption to a minimum, burning only enough wood for essential cooking and to provide optimal light and heat. Judge how much wood you will need until bedtime and don't build up the fire late in the evening, so that there are flames after you have gone to bed. Try to suspend cooking utensils above the flames to minimise cooking times and don't heat more water than you will need. Use rocks to shield the fire from the wind and start the fire in a pit so the coals can safely be buried before retiring.
Reducing the risk of starting a bushfire
Use a moderate size fire so sparks don't blow on to tents or into the bush. Put out your fire with water before retiring and then bury the extinguished coals. Leave your fire pit so that it is not obvious there has been a recent campfire. Don't have a breakfast fire, instead storing a hot drink in your Thermos overnight, to reduce the need for fuel and save time. Only light a fire outside the bushfire season and as advised by NPWS.
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