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Fire Bans & Canister Stoves

I was just reading a new review on a canister stove. The author was discussing the need to use it over his alcohol stove because of a fire ban. 

I don't live in a fire ban area. I understand why alcohol and wood stoves would be banned in these areas. But why are canister stoves allowed when there is a risk of failure?

Is it that the risk is considered low enough to allow it?

Just curious. I'm not looking to hike in a fire ban area any time in the near future. 

Interesting...I had the honor of doing two firestarter reviews for the Review Corps during the fall to winter drought in the southeast last year and learned a lot about banned fires and stoves. Based on that experience, a fire ban seems to be implemented in various ways depending on the region and agency...not surprising and probably better than a blanket approach that doesn't address regional conditions.

Without digging up all the notes and details, I found alcohol stoves for the most part were permitted in the areas I chose to hike and in one case they even allowed a wood burning stove but that was an exception granted purely due to my charm and good looks, or maybe the explanation and street cred of my Trailspace hat!

I don't see alcohol stoves as any more fire prone than  canisters or pressurized fuel pump stoves. In fact in over 30 years my only uncontrolled flame on a stove was on a Peak 1 under pressure. Never had a problem with alcohol stoves.

Did the review say where the ban was and which agency implemented it. I'll be interested to hear from our agency and forestry members here.

Different areas define "fire ban/restrictions" within their own jurisdictions. Many allow alky stoves, but some do not. Those that allow canisters but not alky usually base it on the fact that a canister has a cut-off valve, that is the defining feature. There doesn't seem to be much consideration for whatever other failures and fire hazards a canister setup may pose.

In the Grand Canyon where fires are not allowed anywhere in the inner canyons backcountry, only cannister stoves are allowed. I use a MSR Pocket Rocket.

In So Cal wood fires are banned year round in many areas, but no restriction on types of stoves.  When it gets so risky they feel compelled to step it up, they close access to the backcountry altogether.


Just what JR said canister stoves have a cutoff valve...Alcohol are open and can spill..

I think JR and Denis are on the right track. While you can make a canister explode, you have to screw up in a pretty specific way to make that happen. They are likely looking at "kick over" scenarios, as in what happens if the stove is knocked over. With many alcohol and wood stoves that would mean spreading the fire around while knocking over a canister still keeps the fire localized. If you pick up the stove you pick up the fire while with other fuel sources you can pick up the stove but the burning fuel remains on the ground.

Why? Why do canister stoves get a pass sometimes? The cynic in me says "because money."

The verbage surrounding these regulations is open to intepretation, and it is intepreted differently between the individual agencies and the units within those agencies.

In other words, it's a kind of circus that has to keep going, and does whatever it needs to keep going, hoping very few people question what's happening.

Here's Hikin' Jim's take on the subject.

One problem is that the flame on many alky stoves is invisible in daylight. This can lead to "unforeseen incidents". See the video in the above link.

Aaand a lengthy discussion on backpacking light.

Very complicated, all these POVs!  But does it matter?  The irony is the authorities are trying to idiot proof idiots who seem to mismanage fire in whatever form they have at hand.  Making qualified exceptions under the logic some flame sources are safer than others is an attempt to accommodate the rest of us; unfortunately the same accommodation will have the idiot up there with a canister stove and windscreen configured such that the area under the pot gets super heated, and ignites the flammables on the ground that were not cleared away before starting the stove.  In the time it takes to fetch water, they arrive back to find a burn that has quickly grown beyond control.  It's what idiots do.  

Accidents happen even under well managed circumstances.  These regs are not aimed at the knowledgeable.  The competent purposefully pre-stage contingency responses, for example, clearing flammables away from the fire source, and having a bulk volume of water at the ready.  But fire morons are too lazy or just ignorant and can't be trusted to look after fire.  The largest brush fire in urban Los Angeles history is currently blazing; it was started by banned fireworks...


I would only add that competent, experienced people can do dumb things too, especially when tired or under the influence of one thing or another. The female hiker in the video was a triple crowner...

We often say "I've been doing x for years and y has never happened" (I've been smokin' all my life and I ain't dead yet!). These are rare events so most of us can go a lifetime without them happening to us, but there is still a probability that they will happen to any one of us, and that probability may be affected by circumstances. Sure, we may be as a rule more careful than most, but I know I'm fully capable of tipping over a stove if I let my attention drift a little. A tight firescreen on an upright canister, though - nuh-uh.

Competent, experienced people aren't perfect, just as BigRed mentioned. We all can probably recall a mistake or two ;)

While avoiding mistakes is always the goal, what you do after the mistakes is really important too. Remaining calm and taking appropriate action can decide if a mistake turns into a good campfire story or something much worse. In Ed's example someone was using a stove unattended, so they are way past avoiding mistakes and in the area of looking for trouble. I try not to camp around those folks no matter what type of stove they are using.

As for cooking in fire danger areas I could see that being an area to use the self heating type meals or other sorts of totally contained heat production with no flame at all.

@Ed: Indeed.

October 24, 2020
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