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Are there any recommended methods for disposing of ash from fire pits while primitive camping? I have run into several fire pits in National and State forest camping areas where the fire pit or fire ring is already filled with ash to a point that seems excessive and unsafe. What are the recommended methods for clearing the pits to maintain a minimal impact?

  • I've seen piles of ash just collected near the site. It doesn't seem right to just pile it up though.

  • Is it better to disperse it around the impacted grounds? Would it be better to disperse it deeper away from the actual camping site?

  • Should I pack it out and dump it in the municipal trash?

This is specifically referring to cool, completely extinguished ash. Please be sure to properly put out your fires and allow all ash/coals to sit for an extend amount of time (several days if possible).

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The practice recommended by the Forest Service here, and here is,

When the ashes are COLD and DEAD OUT, the ashes can simply be scattered outside of the campsite.

I would say that the more widely spread the better, as that decreases the visual impact.

I would certainly commend you if you chose to pack the ashes out, but I don't think that it's strictly necessary.

  • 1
    +1 I'm not going to quarrel with the Forest Service, but I wonder about strewing a high pH material near trees and bushes that require acidic soil. As you say, packing (cold) ashes out is best. – ab2 Aug 5 '16 at 17:45
  • @ab2 But if you pack the ashes, you take away the minerals that are contained in them and that the trees gathered. In the (very) long run, it weakens the soil. – njzk2 Mar 23 '17 at 17:56
  • @njzk2 You have a point. My response is that (1) I think very few people are going to pack out the ashes from their fires -- but maybe there is data on this somewhere; and (2) ashes from wood fires are alkaline, and I would not strew alkaline material on the roots of bushes and trees that need an acidic soil. I don't have time now to look into this; maybe the Forest Service addresses it somewhere. – ab2 Mar 23 '17 at 19:27
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Cleaning the fire pit is a task I generally do on arrival. As mentioned in the question and existing answer, hot ashes can start forest fires.

A full fire pit will contain 2 or 3 things.

  • Charcoal - black peices of wood that have not been fully burnt yet
  • Ash - Grey dust, the remains of wood that have been as fully combusted as possible
  • Trash - Garbage

First the trash, gets transferred to either the onsite trash collection point or into my haul out container.

Second, Charcoal gets set aside to use as foundation for starting my fire.

Lastly the ash, I find that a layer of ash in the bottom of the pit makes starting a fire easier. I never remove all the ash, I try to leave about a half inch (1.5cm).

As you are at an established campground in a National or State forest with a fires ring, I expect there will be one of two things present.

  • Flush toilet, which in my experience indicates a fee supported camping site with dedicated trash collection sites. Cold, wet ashes can be put in the trash.

  • Pit/vault toilet, free or very low cost camping, with a haul in, haul out policy. Ash WITHOUT TRASH can be added to the pit/vault toilet. It will help with smells and composting.

References

  • Are you certain about adding ash to a pit toilet? I used to do maintenance at a state park and we never did that. Part of me suspects that the Forest Service would rather not haul out more than they absolutely have to. – Charlie Brumbaugh Mar 19 '17 at 17:16
  • @CharlieBrumbaugh all of the references I found that mentioned wood ash and pit toilets identify only positive benefits. I suspect that the forest service does not recommend this, because of the high risk of including trash, which is much worse for the pit toilet then the ashes are good. Additionally at campgrounds where pit toilets are available generally include maintenance teams who in theory are cleaning out the fire pits and picking up litter. So a camper needing to do this should not occur. If it does and the camper is eco-friendly enough to ask, my answer is the best choice. – James Jenkins Mar 19 '17 at 22:01
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    regarding the toilet, various places have different policies about what you can and can't put in it, depending on the degrading strategy. – njzk2 Mar 23 '17 at 17:57

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