Burn, baby, burn | VailDaily.com

Burn, baby, burn

Tom Winter
Photo special to the DailyThe "caveman's television" inspires man and keeps predators away.

There’s something about the flames. They draw us closer, transfixing us and warming us. It’s not for nothing that fire has been called “the caveman’s television,” and for us it is no different. We stare deep into the glowing coals as the night draws closer around us and the barking of coyotes in the distance echoes off the canyon walls of the desert.We’ll never know who was the first human to harness fire. But on this night, deep in the canyon lands of southern Utah, we really don’t care. We’ve escaped from civilization for a weekend of hiking and biking in the desert sun. But we’re at the waning end of summer, and the nights are cold. Snow already covers the La Salle Mountains and the temperatures plummet when dusk fades from the sky. There are two choices on nights like these: huddle in the tent, with a sleeping bag pulled tight around our heads or build the biggest damn bonfire we can devise. We are a social group, and there’s plenty of beer that needs to be drunk, so the contest isn’t even close. The bonfire wins by a unanimous vote.

The art of the bonfireBonfires are good fun. Especially when you can build ’em big and there’s minimal fire danger to worry about. Things only get exciting (and dangerous) when they get out of hand. The point isn’t to set the world on fire and end up scorching miles and miles of forest, but rather to create a conflagration that warms the body and soul, without nasty side effects like slurry bombers and hotshot firefighters dropping from choppers like a ninja invasion.That’s exactly why there’s a time and place for bonfires, just like a time and place for guzzling cold beer under a frozen Utah moon. The trick with bonfires is to know when the time is right. And to avoid starting any kind of fire at all when the time is wrong.

Be safeThe Forest Service and Sheriff’s offices in our part of the world are pretty good about letting you know when the time isn’t right. And, that’s exactly why you should obey them when they issue a ban on campfires. But there are parts of the world where you’d never have to worry about a ban. A lonely spot of beach on the Baja peninsula comes to mind. There’s plenty of driftwood, and the tide will come in long after you’ve crashed out in the tents, washing away the ashes and dousing any coals that may linger.For our part of the world, timing is even more important given the recent drought and the speed in which flames can engulf mountainsides. The trick is to make sure that you start your fires in a location that’s safe (the middle of the street on Halloween during your block party is a good idea) and to douse them thoroughly with water when the party is over. Then, of course, douse ’em again, just for good measure.While gasoline is frowned upon for getting the buggers started, you can’t go wrong with a bit of lighter fluid. And for God’s sake, make sure the wood is dry. Wet wood burns smoky and cool.

A little romance?Dry stuff goes up nicely and won’t smoke as much. Meaning, of course, that you can sit closer to the warmth while you enjoy your beverage of choice and pleasant conversation with a member of the opposite sex.Which brings us to another point. There is nothing so romantic as sharing the warmth and comfort of a nice campfire with someone you are interested in getting to know better. The key to maximizing this situation is to refrain from stoking the flames when they start to die. As the embers cool off and things start to get chilly, you can suggest a warmer option: your tent or hers. But while you start to stoke the flames of love, don’t forget to douse the flames of your campfire. After all, one good fire deserves another, and there’s nothing less romantic than running through a forest in the nude, trying to escape the massive wildfire that was sparked by your own stupidity.Tom Winter is a freelance writer based in Vail, Colorado.Vail Colrado

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