Ricochet-sparked fire highlights safety issues
Last updated 7/5/2022 at Noon
Firefighters were called to the Zimmerman Butte cinder pit last week to extinguish a brush fire caused by a bullet that ricocheted into the nearby sage, igniting it. The area, close to Sisters, is popular with target shooters. The flames were doused quickly, nobody was injured, and no citations were issued, officials deciding it was a one-off, unintended event.
The Nugget asked Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid to discuss forest safety in general. He started by saying, “This is the first summer in my five years in Sisters that we have not had public use restrictions by July 4, a result of the longer, wetter, cooler spring, and forecast for a moderate holiday weekend.”
This translates to being able to have a traditional campfire in most of the Deschutes National Forest, not just in designated campgrounds. That was welcome news to the hundreds of campers who took to our woods for the three-day holiday.
Thousands of recreationists take to the forest every summer, increasing the risk of fire and accident. It’s a good time to be reminded of some basic rules, according to Reid. First of all, fireworks are never allowed in a National Forest. None, no matter how small.
For target shooters, exploding targets are strictly prohibited. Exploding targets, generically referred to as Tannerite (a brand of Tannerite Sports, LLC), are sold commercially for recreational target shooting with the purpose of visibly and audibly reacting when struck by a projectile, usually a rifle bullet. Tracer ammunition is also banned.
Otherwise, common sense prevails. Shoot away from brush or trees, particularly when using steel-jacketed ammunition, which can cause an incident like the one at the Zimmerman pit.
Off-highway vehicles (OHV) — ATVs, motorized dirt bikes — are a source of both fire and accidents. “Never remove or modify the factory spark arrester that comes with the unit,” Reid warns. “And stay on the designated roads.” Fines for violation are hefty and strictly enforced given the risk for fire and damage to the Forest.
There are numerous smart phone apps showing a rider where it is legal and safe to ride. Reid’s office has free paper maps for ATV riders wanting to enjoy the hundreds of miles of available trails. He especially cautions against riding on “humped” roads, those that have built up grass between the tracks. Such grasses are highly prone to ignition from the heat of an engine.
Wildlife encounters are immediately thrilling, such as the sight of an elk, cougar, or bear. Reid doesn’t see much risk, if one keeps a safe distance and practices standard defensive tactics: Try to give the animal a chance to escape. Look it in the eye if it continues to approach you.
Make loud noises, and try to make yourself look bigger by holding sticks over your head or spreading your jacket (cougars prefer easy prey).
Back away slowly, and never turn your back. Do not run – running triggers the mountain lion’s attack instincts. Do not approach them – approaching triggers the mountain lion’s attack mode.
Reid talked about bears in the Metolius and Green Ridge areas. The issue here is mostly food; that is, the careless storage of it by campers. Bears, like cougars, are rarely interested in humans and will try to avoid contact. Human food is a magnet for bears, however, and risk occurs in their pursuit of robbing your food store.
Sharing the trail sounds simple, and it is. Still, altercations among bikers, hikers, and equestrians are an unfortunate result of not heeding proper trail etiquette.
Think about it logically. Horses are big and have a rider on their back. They can’t navigate as easily on a single-track trail. Bikers and hikers must yield to the equestrian. Bikes, often traveling at a high rate of speed, can cause more damage to a hiker than vice versa and therefore must yield to the walker.
If you must put it into hierarchal terms: horse first, hiker second, biker last. Better to think of it in common-sense terms.
In general, keep your children and pets in sight at all times. Keep all food stored in animal-proof containers. Let wild animals eat their wild dinners. They are not pets; do not feed them.
Never park on dry grass. The hot undercarriage of your vehicle could start a fire. Start your activities early and be sure you have plenty of time in your day to return to your vehicle or campsite before dark.
Hike with a buddy and carry plenty of water and nutrition-packed foods in airtight containers. Wear protective clothing, including hiking boots and layers. Carry a compass and a map. Don’t rely on your cell phone, because forests often don’t have cell towers.
But most of all, Reid says, “Enjoy your public lands. They’re yours after all.”