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Campfires and Air Pollution



I appreciate the opportunity to express my viewpoint on campfires in the
AT-L list! Certainly the purpose of a quality list like AT-L is to
exchange information, whether it's nuts and bolts on gear, trail section
info, AT stories, or whatever; and information also includes philosophy,
ideas and viewpoints. Generally I have seen an objective and sensible
discussion of the latter in AT-L, which is rare in Internet mailing
lists. 

First of all, I enjoy a campfire as much as anyone. A well-built fire
does something to you on a very deep level - the feeling of safety
around a fire, warmth, letting your imagination wander while watching
the blaze, etc. It IS enjoyable. But.. even though I enjoy sitting
around a fire in camp, I have made a conscious decision to forego this
pleasure because I have learned about the consequences that building a
fire whenever I make camp has on the environment. I derive greater
satisfaction now from not building the fire. The people I hike and camp
with have come to the same conclusions. 

High-impact fuel gathering and fire ring construction are the most
visible problems, but the generation of large amounts of smoke and
pollutants from campfires is higher-impact still. 

The air pollution problems definitely exist in AT corridors near
metropolitan areas. I live close to the Great Smoky Mountains, and am a
member of the GSM Natural History Association. According to the NHA, the
monitoring station at Cove Mountain is reporting historically high
levels of several major pollutants including ozone and sulfates. These
pollutants are beginning to damage the entire Smokies from the main
crest (along which the AT runs) down through the watershed basins. The
red spruce along the AT are dying, most likely due to the pollution.
Line-of-sight distances from the high peaks in the park have been cut
from 80-120 miles to 10-20 miles on particularly bad days. On many days,
the Cove Mountain station measures higher ozone concentrations in the
Park than in nearby Knoxville! Heavy air pollution in sections of the AT
corridor is largely due to hydrocarbon emissions - autos, coal-burning
power plants, and other organic fuels, including wood fires in 
fireplaces and campsites. 

There are times where a fire is necessary: obviously if survival is at
stake!, or if clothing, packs and/or supplies get wet and urgently need
to be dried out. Campers who build fires solely for pleasure are
certainly at liberty to do so (I totally agree with the maxim "hike your
own hike") but they should consider the consequences of building the
fire and make their own objective decisions. 

We all individually have the potential of being part of larger problems
due to the choices we make. This is true of just about everything from
an environmental perspective, not just firebuilding.


Michael Vaughn
Chattanooga, TN  USA