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Advice for Backpackers (Novice and Veteran) 

I started backpacking and camping when I was 13, and I'm now 70. I'm a 57-year wilderness veteran, Queen Scout (U.K. equivalent of an Eagle Scout), Sierra Club member, champion of outdoor ethics, and I don't like open wood fires (too dangerous).

So how do I explain the fact that I burned down almost a square mile of wild grassland? And what can I say that might help prevent this from happening to anyone else?

1. Think "fire." When we picked our campsite, I was thinking flat area, water, beautiful view. In my over-confidence, I barely gave a thought to what should have been my No. 1 priority: a safe area for a fire, clear of any vegetation.

2. Think "wind." The wind blows down the Lost Coast hard, which is why everyone hikes north-to-south. We'd been seduced by the previous half-hour lull, instead of assuming that the next big gust might be seconds away.

3. Think "stove safety." Hundreds of safe, non-eventful lightings of our stove led to a sense of complacency. Stoves are not foolproof. They can leak. Fuel left in the bowl does evaporate -- fast, as we found out. A Coleman-fuel stove like ours sometimes blows out in wind. If it does, it should be allowed to cool before re-lighting, to prevent flare-ups.

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Barry Evans

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