In The Right Place At The Right Time

July 22, 2013
July 22, 2013

Anyone that has ever been on the mountain with me, knows how I feel about campfires on the range.  I DO NOT LIKE THEM, AND I DO NOT THINK THERE SHOULD BE ANY ALLOWED.

My reasons are simple:

1.  This is the horses range, we are just visitors in their space.

2.  The horses are fenced in.

3.  There are many dead trees on the range.

4.  Water sources are limited on the range to extinguish fires.

5.  The winds on the mountain are often strong and unpredictable.

There are many other reasons, but those are my top 5.  Feel free to make comments and add to the list above.

I arrived on the mountain early Monday morning, relieved that my usual campsite was available.   It was immediately apparent that someone had camped there since I last was there a week before.  My good friend Anh was on the mountain on Friday ( July 19) and said she witnessed a person at my campsite with a fire burning.  Anh is a very caring and wonderful friend,  one who does not hesitate to do what she can for the horses.  She immediately walked up to this person and voiced her concerns. (and took photos).

Photo of campfire that was burning on July  19, 2013.  Photo by Anh.
Photo of campfire that was burning on July 19, 2013. Photo by Anh.
Photo by Anh.  Campfire on July 19, 2013
Photo by Anh. Campfire on July 19, 2013

There never used to be a fire ring on this site (hand made with rocks) until this year.  I felt that this ring had been made in a very dangerous place.  Let me explain.

My husband Bill and I live in a wooded area in Western Montana.  For the last 3 years we have received a grant to thin trees to make our land safer from wild fire.  We have spent many months over the past 3 years burning and thinning, so I have had my share of personal fire management and I am pretty good at determining where it is safe to stack a pile and burn.  I am not new to fire or am I afraid of it.  But I have become a fanatic for safety regarding it.  Every year I hear of a wild fire that was caused by human means and most involve a campfire.  Thousand of acres every year are lost due to human carelessness.

Graciana and Naolin, July 23, 2013
Graciana and Naolin, July 23, 2013

We set up camp and went to find horses.  This trip was different from my others this year.  The only horses we saw by us was Doc and Band and Garcia and Band.  I will share more about our hiking adventures and new discoveries soon.  I made new life long friends and experienced many new things on the range this trip.

After spending several hours hiking we came back to camp.   I immediately smelled smoke.  Running to the fire ring I saw that it had spread a few feet under a nearby tree.  Within feet of that was a large dead tree that had fallen down.

I bring a huge amount of water with me.  Much more than I know we can possibly use.  Even though I had almost 50 gallons of water with me, it would not have been enough to put this fire out if it had spread to the dead tree.   We immediately dumped over 20 gallons on it and dug up around the tree.

I then called Jared and Don and left messages.

IMG_9853 IMG_9854 IMG_9856

During the course of the next few days, we put more than 30 gallons of our water on this campfire ring and surrounding area.  It still seemed warm in spots.

After contacting Jim Sparks,( who told me that fires can spring up even after 4 months), I received a call from a BLM fire personal.  After explaining the actions of the fire, he concluded they should send up a fire crew to check it out more thoroughly.  I was very happy to hear that, as I was hesitant to leave the mountain without more water on this spot.

As we were leaving the mountain Wednesday afternoon, I ran into the fire crew coming up.  I had tied a marker on a branch to mark the spot for them.  They were very appreciative of my actions regarding this fire and assured me that they would take care of it.  It was possible that this fire was deep into the dry tuff on the ground and they may have to cut down the tree and dig a huge hole to get rid of it deep underground.  My campsite will most likely look very different when I returned to it.  This saddened me, all caused by human carelessness.  All of this could have been prevented if there were no campfires allowed on the range.

I am thankful that we were there when it sparked up.  I shudder to think about what could have occurred had we not been there.  Worse case: the entire range and lives of horses could have been taken.

Norma Jean looks over her sister Millicent, July 23, 2013
Norma Jean looks over her sister Millicent, July 23, 2013

I urge you to join me in asking that all campfires be banded on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.

You can contact Jim Sparks or Jared Bybee either by email or phone.  Click here for contact information:




29 thoughts on “In The Right Place At The Right Time

  • Camp fires can be so dangerous. Most people don’t realize how long a fire can “live underground”. We have the same problem here in NE MN. We have lots of forest with peat bogs. The fire gets into the peat bog and smolders and smolders until one day it decides to explode into a forest fire. Thank goodness you were there in the Pryors to take care of the carelessness of the previous camper. What could have happened would have been catastrophic. I’ll be emailing Jared with my concerns and/or suggestions as well.

  • Sandy,
    I agree with you 100%. No fires.
    So glad you were there to deal with a situation that could have been tragic.
    Cheers to your friend Anh for speaking up.
    Appreciate your passion for the horses and the range.

  • Sandy I absolutely agree. My sister went through something like this several years ago and I learned about fire smoldering underground. You don’t know it’s there til you step on it and blam your in neck deep trouble.

    For the uniniated how do you “cook” on the mountain? Do you use camping stoves or basic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…? I think it’s Mountain’s House that offers camping food with a package of heat kits…

    Open flame camp fires should be a GIGANTIC no-no on the horse range.

    • Hi Margaret. Thank you! I bring a propane camp stove to cook on. It is a safe and easy way to cook. But again, you must take precautions even with that. With that (it even has a small oven), I am able to prepare good meals WITHOUT a campfire.

  • You know how I feel about this situation Sandy, and am thankful that you and Ahn were there. This could have been catastrophic and lives could have been lost, wild horses and other wildlife who share the range with the horses. A huge thank you and a big slap upside the head to the people or persons who did not extinguish the fire properly. Hopefully a lesson was learned.
    I will for sure be contacting BLM on this and ask that there be no campfires allowed on the wild horse range. There is a sign as you enter the WHR that says “NO CAMPFIRES”, so why was someone disobeying the laws meant for “everyone?”
    A fire started by lightning (Mother Nature) is one thing, but a fire started by human error is preventable and this situation should set an example about how dangerous campfires can be on the range.
    Thank you again for being there, being aware and bringing it to other’s attention by posting this on your blog!!! Thank you too Ahn!!!

    • Thank you Lori. That sign is no longer up on the board. I believe that was put there last year when they felt the fire danger was high. I would like it to be a permanent sign, and much bigger!

  • I know campfires can be relaxing after a day of hiking but use some common sense! I’d think you want that fire pit in an open area AWAY from anything that might spark a huge wildfire. And I know it can cold even in summer at 8500 ft. Take a couple of sleeping bags–one summer nd one heavy duty winter. Winter ones carry fleece liner that you can remove. Take thermals.1. There’s no reason to be cold with clothes available to ward off winter cold 2 yeah it’s a pain to pack but that would be my first priority. Enough layers for all kinds of possible elements and sleeping bags.

    I may not know all the in and outs of “appropriate” camping do’s and don’t’s but the Pryors are not a place you go with no supervision. Even adults need supervision sometimes. Think of it as a helping hand–not a negative. Think of it as learning something new. The life you save could be your own. If a fire broke out up there would YOU have the skills to escape?

    Perhaps this camper didn’t know fire can live underground for months. I didn’t til my the fire near my sister’s. I learned WAY MORE than I wanted more. Enough to have a healthy fear and respect for fire. One thing I remember learning in Girl Scouts YOU ALWAYS ALWAYS put out your fire before leaving. You kill the flames, dig the thing up and kill it again. YOU DON’T LEAVE til the ground is the same temp as the stuff nearby.

    • Thank you Margaret. Yes, I pack many layers and gave a list to all those that come with me to do the same. Some laughed at that list, not believing it could be cold in the middle of summer. Then they experience it. I have loaned many things from my box of “extra warm clothes and blankets” this summer. I have never lit a fire there or do I ever plan on it. I was even there when it snowed last June. That is another reason why I head up the mountain with a full tank of gas. In an emergency, I can always get in my truck and warm up for a while if needed.
      I believe that some people think it is their right to be able to have a camp fire and don’t think they can camp without one.
      That kind of thinking needs to be changed.

  • I never fails to amaze me how careless people can be. Thank God you were there, Sandy. I agree that there should be no camp fires on the horse range.

  • I will definitely be sending an e-mail! It really is a great thing you were there at the right time. A fire starting on the range would be disastrous! I’m not sure the exact whereabouts of your camp, but I know it’s a central location where you see a lot of horses and other wildlife. There definitely would have been lives lost if this fire hadn’t been stopped. I hadn’t even thought of people getting trapped too until it was mentioned in a comment above. I was out at lunch with my Mom when I first came across this post and when I said something to her, her first words were “someone set a fire on the horse range!?!?” And went on to point out that besides the horses there’s other wildlife that would have been effected as well. She knows of the herd and is familiar with some of my favorite horses, but all together doesn’t know a ton about the Pryors and even she immediately thought it was incredibly stupid to start a camp fire there. Common sense!!!

  • I’m with you on the campfire ban, Sandy. Thank goodness you were there when the fire sparked up and I shutter too about what could’ve happened to the range and even all of the horses

  • Wow, I had no idea idea fires could smolder under ground for so long and randomly spark up. I have never been camping in my life so I wouldn’t even know how to start or put out a fire safely. I don’t even know how to use our fireplace (that’s my dad’s job). I once witnessed a neighbor’s house on fire in middle school and I will never forget waking up and looking out my window to the blaze on the roof. I can still hear the crackling and the smell of smoke was overpowering. Nobody died (that I remember) and I think the fire was started by a still lit cigarette. Again, another fire that could have been avoided had people been more careful… These horses are so lucky you are watching out for them!

  • Maybe possibly this “ban on campfires” could be added to the RMP.
    While I do love campfires when camping, they should not be allowed on the WHR. There is too much of a possibility for something catastrophic to happen and the WHR is a special place full of wild horses and other wildlife.
    PS…Sandy, I thought Greta’s new foal is named Ninotchka?

  • Your actions are MUCH appreciated; I don’t think campfires should be banned per say ( hear me out) however in Washington State where people are allowed to camp there is a ban during the dry times of the year…absolutely NO fires usually June-September sometimes earlier sometimes later depending on Rain and fire hazard. I think this should also be implemented to the Pryors (all forest habitat in fact).

    I also think you should have a fire permit that you must pay for say…say $5 and you must write down your location either before or after where you are having a fire. If you don’t have a permit then you should be fined, and if you do and a fire starts you should be solely responsible for all costs taken to put out the fire.

    When we have fires we actually bring a steel 2 1/2 inch thick ring that we place around our fire (in my state). When we are done with our fire we literally dig up the ground and apply as much as 50-100 gallons of water while sifting through the ground (with shovels) and put our hands in the earth to make sure there is no steam…no hot spots etc. My family has been doing this for over 50 years now camping…it also helps that we have 3 registered fire fighters in he family.

    It’s all about responsibility folks!

    • Thank you Gina. Those are really great ideas and pointers, I really appreciate it. That is the biggest problem about fires in the Pryors. Most people do not carry the 50-100 gallons of water that they need to properly put out a fire. There are very few water sources available. This time of year there is only one really good water source: Kreguer Pond. Which would mean taking water away from the horses to put out a camp fire properly. I think banning it from June- October would be the good thing to do.

      Thanks again!

  • Good work,Sandy. I knew your presence on the mountain with tours and not just personal visits was going to be good thing. 🙂 Just thought I’d mention that I noticed that some campers had a fire pit built with stones down in the trees across from Mystic and the puddles, close to the road, also. I never did see a fire in it while I was there, tho.

    • Hi Linda, Anh saw someone with a fire there on Friday night as well, so when we met the fire crew on the way up, we asked that they double check that fire as well.

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