This is a story from long, long ago, on a western river not so far away. Names have been withheld to protect the guilty. It’s a cautionary tale of what NOT to do with a campfire.
I wasn’t on this trip but several of my boating buddies were. Now, some of them are prone to stretch a story to enhance it, but I’ve heard the same version from them all, so I think the stretch-factor is minimal.
Let me set the scene. These guys (and yes, ladies, it was all guys) were mid-way through a great wilderness raft trip. The water level was low and it’d been a hard day of pulling overloaded boats off rocks. Folks were relaxing around a fire that had been burning all evening and the big firepan was heaped with glowing coals.
Then one of the boaters says, “Have you ever barbequed a beer?” The general reaction was, “Huh?” So, he took an unopened can of beer and nestled it down in the coals. Uh oh…everyone started backing away from the fire; everyone except a fellow who’d fallen asleep in his chair, which was quite close to the firepan. Others tried to rouse him, without success.
Now I’m not so sure what the beer was supposed to have done, but I imagine it was something fun, benign and showy. Well, what happened wasn’t fun or benign, but it was certainly showy.
Beer is mostly water, as those of you who drink it know quite well. When water turns to steam, it expands some 1,600 times. So, in half the wink of an eye, the 12 oz. in the can probably expanded to somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 cubic feet or about the volume of three 55-gallon drums! Not a speck of coals or ash remained in the firepan, it looked like it had been power-washed.
The guy in the chair was blown over backwards and engulfed in sparks. Coals flew out many feet in all directions. Everybody got busy, some putting out spot fires scattered across the campsite and others the spot fires on the poor fellow lying on the ground. Several members of the group were firefighters and they could just visualize the headline, “Local Firemen Set Wilderness Ablaze, Suppression Costs Mount”.
Disaster was averted, the forest didn’t burn down and no one was seriously injured. However, at least one expensive tent had holes burned through it and the clothes of the fellow at ground zero looked like they’d been blasted with birdshot. The fellow who instigated the event was pretty unpopular.
The moral of the story? Have fun, boat and drink responsibly…and never ever, ever pull a stunt like this!
Drawing by my son, Matt Nicely (who wasn't on the trip either).
Probably not factually correct, but hey, you get the idea!
p.s. Do you have a tale of on-the-water or camp time missteps or mistakes? One you’ve told around many a campfire or post-trip get together? Share it with your friends at NRS and with other e-News readers by going to the Photo & Story Submission