Fire ban burns wood suppliers
Published: Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
With the vast majority of the area baking, suffering from below average precipitation and new fires popping up in the forest on a seemingly hourly basis, the average person may be hard-pressed to see any downside to a fire ban in the Black Hills.
Mark Baumann is not your average person.
Baumann, of Custer, is the owner of Kidville Firewood and has made his living for the past 23 years selling bundled firewood to area campgrounds. That has all come to a screeching halt this summer, as the prolonged type one fire ban—prohibiting fires of any kind, including campfires—has snuffed out his business. Baumann said he works 12 months a year to make money for the three summer months in the year, and figures the fire ban will cost him $50,000 when all is said and done.
“We’re finished. To us, summer is over,”âï¿½ï¿½he said. “People say, ‘maybe they will lift (the ban) for the rally. Bikers don’t use campfire wood. There are very few who sit around and use campfire wood. Then, school is going to start. Our main part of the season is over with.”
It may not matter if bikers used campfire anyway, as Custer County Emergency Management director Mike Carter said the fire ban will more than likely last through the rally.
“At this point in time, unless we see marked recovery, which is not in the forecast, the ban will stay in place,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.
Carter meets once a week with multiple agencies in the area, including the Forest Service,âï¿½ï¿½National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, to discuss the fire ban. It was determined last week the type one ban would stay in effect.
“The vast majority have been supportive of (the ban),”âï¿½ï¿½Carter said.âï¿½ï¿½“Iâï¿½ï¿½think people can see the fire danger out there, not only with the Myrtle Fire, but the starts we have had from lightning.”
Carter said there have been three to five fires starting per day in the area due to the dry conditions.
Baumann does not see things that way. He called the lengthy type one ban unprecedented and said, while he agrees that some type of ban is necessary, the total ban is over the top.
“People think this is something new. This is just summer. It’s a dry summer, but it’s not terrible,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.âï¿½ï¿½“Forest fires are going to happen. It’s not the people in the campgrounds who start fires. (In the past) we have had extreme (fire danger) for a month straight and never had a (total) fire ban. Most forest fires start from lightning. The chance of it starting (from a campfire) is astronomical.”
Baumann said at his peak, he was selling over 40,000 bundles of firewood a year, but that went down to around 20,000 to 25,000 when the economy crashed. Among the area campgrounds he supplies are Rafter J Bar Ranch, Crooked Creek and Palmer Gulch KOA. He pointed out that most campgrounds have a Underwriters Laboratories (UL) rated fire grate, which he said makes starting a fire from the grates virtually impossible. He also said campgrounds worked hard to rid their area of dense tree patches and bug trees, and mow their grass extremely short. Some campgrounds even have their own fire truck on hand.
“There has never been a documented fire in a ULâï¿½ï¿½listed fire grate,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.âï¿½ï¿½“My neighbor is still mowing his lawn. This is not a drought.”
Rod Rice, firewood bundle supplier for Custer State Park, said his business has stopped altogether. Unlike Baumann, wood sales aren’t his lone source of income. He normally sells the park 12,000-14,000 bundles a summer. This year, he sold 5,000. He figures he lost $10,000 in July because of the ban.
“They have to do what they have to do. Now that we have gotten some rain, I think they would take it off. They put it on very quickly and they could take it off very quickly and if they need to, put it back on. I’m not sure that’s going to happen,” Rice said.âï¿½ï¿½“Right now we have slop holes and mud puddles—but I realize about five days of sunshine and we’ll be back right where we were.”
At Beaver Lake Campground, owner Max Hammer said the fires have not been keeping away visitors, and, for the most part, his guests are understanding of the ban on campfires.
“It’s an inconvenience to them, but think of what it does to me,” he said.
In addition to no firewood sales is no sale of other things used around the campfire, including meat, condiments and utensils. It also means his employees assigned to take care of the fire pits have no work.
“It’s hurting my business and hurting my employees,” he said.
He said one guest had people in their hometown tell them they couldn’t go to the Black Hills because everything was closed due to fire. He assured them that wasn’t the case.
Overall, Hammer said the fires have affected his business very little. He would like to see the fire ban lifted ASAP, however.
“I think the commissioners should give that some thought,” he said.
At Rafter J Bar Ranch near Hill City, owner Todd George estimated his July will be down about 5 percent, partially due to lack of sales due to the fire ban and partially because he has stopped renting certain campsites in case the campground has to be evacuated because of a fire. People in the immediate area are more apt to cancel their camping plans because of the ban, he said.
“The campfire is more important to them,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.âï¿½ï¿½“If they can’t use a charcoal grill or have a campfire they stay home.”
Still, George completely supports the ban.
“Quite frankly, this summer is more about survival than having a record-breaking year,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.âï¿½ï¿½“I’m fine with sacrificing some income for public safety. I’m more concerned about getting through the summer intact and not having a forest fire wipe out half the area.”
Baumann said even if the fire ban is lifted soon, it won’t do him much good, as the campgrounds are already stockpiled with wood they can’t use.
“Our main part of the season is over with,” he said. “They are already stockpiled, so there goes our winter income.
“If they are going to do this, we may as well get rid of campground grates. We’re never going to have campfires again. This (dryness) isn’t unusual. The unusual thing is we have this stage one fire ban.”
Rice is more optimistic, hoping the ban will be lifted.
“Hopefully they take it off. I don’t think there is anything a person can do about it,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.âï¿½ï¿½“We’ll just hope it keeps raining, because that’s what we need.”
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