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'All about the campfire': Campers adjust their plans with fire bans in place

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EDMONTON -

Jade Najam was getting excited about camping during the May long weekend, sitting around the campfire late into the night with his family and sipping hot chocolate.

"Camping is all about the campfire. Just surfing the fire and sitting around the fire," said Najam. "Sitting around the campfire is the most important part of our evening."

But Alberta's fire ban, which was put in place in early May, still hadn't been lifted. Najam called off the plans to go camping in the wilderness, deciding it was better to stay home instead.

Fire bans began rolling in after hot, dry weather took over much of Canada early in the season — starting in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, now expanding to the Maritimes. While Saskatchewan and Alberta have lifted the bans in some regions, people in the Prairies have been monitoring the wildfire season closely.

Companies that supply camping enthusiasts have been seeing trends change.

Najam, who is the managing director of Smart Firewood Products, based in Leduc, Alta., says demand usually picks up around mid-April and continues until mid-October.

"This May, I'm not even at five per cent of what I did last year in sales," he said.

Najam said his company provides "truckloads" of firewood to national parks in Alberta every year, while serving locals with retail firewood in his yard.

"My semi-truck full of firewood didn't even get out of the yard," he said of the current season.

One outdoor outfitter, meanwhile, is seeing a jump in sales for propane gas outdoor firepits.

"People have to look at things a bit differently when planning their camping trip due to fire bans," said Mike Eerkes, general manager at a Mountain Equipment Company store in Edmonton.

He said campers are opting for alternatives that don't get the classic smoky-wood campfire but still provide a warm glow.

For propane fires, Eerkes said, "All you need is a propane firepit, a propane tank and some gas in it."

The biggest advantage to propane fire is that "you can have it," he said. "They're fully compliant with the fire bans."

However, he acknowledges that propane fires are not fuel efficient, based on his experience. He suggested buying larger, refillable propane tanks for cost-effectiveness.

Overall, Eerkes said he hasn't seen a remarkable shift in the sales of camping gear overall.

"It's certain the fires are going to have some effect … but I'm not convinced we're seeing a massive downturn in people going camping this year."

A private campground about 100 kilometres southwest of Halifax has been getting cancellations since the fire ban and camping bans in wooded areas of Nova Scotia earlier this week.

"When fire bans are in place, it's the private campground's choice to follow the fire ban to not," said Minseo Kim, manager of the Little Lake Family Campground in Lunenburg, N.S. "But for this fire ban, private campgrounds have to listen as well.  

"This has never happened before. We never faced this issue." 

Kim said the cancellations will not have a huge effect in the coming weeks, partly because the peak season begins in July and the campground also has an open space outside of the wooded area. 

He is hoping the fire ban lifts soon for overnight campers.  

Nova Scotia imposed the fire ban on Monday, with Prince Edward Island following Tuesday.

Chris Nuttall-Smith, the author of the newly released book "Cook It Wild," said campers don't really need campfires to enjoy the outdoors or prepare meals.  

A longtime backpacker and camper, Nuttall-Smith said fire bans are not a "huge limitation" for cooking outdoors with alternatives like backpack stoves available.  

Nuttall-Smith, in his book, shares 75 recipes to cook in the wild, with up to 65 of them possible without a campfire, he said.

"Some of the best trips that I've ever taken are in places where you're never allowed to have a campfire," he said. "I don't think a lot of people miss it."  

He recommends campers making due without fire this season bring pre-prepared food and enjoy the outdoors.  

"You can find so much beauty out in the wild at dusk, after dark, like looking at the fireflies, looking at the stars. There is so much to do."  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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