Fire Prevention

Shrub-Steppe Fire

Sagebrush, bunchgrasses and the ever-present cheatgrass make for easy fire starting. The shrub-steppe is extremely flammable, not just in the summer, but all year round. We've pulled together some "sage" advice (sorry for the pun, but it had to be said) on how to prevent wildfires. Some are just common sense tips; others may be things you've never thought of. Before visiting us, we encourage you to "brush" up on your fire prevention.

In the desert, shrub-steppe environment that comprises the Monument, fire is one of the biggest threats to natural and cultural resources, as well as to human life. The Monument devotes considerable time, money, personnel and other resources to the management, suppression and strategic use of fire to protect and enhance natural, cultural and recreational resources, as well as to safeguard life and property.

The fire season is typically from May to mid-September. Depending on the specific weather of any particular year, the fire season may start earlier or last longer. Most fires in the area occur during the summer months, with the majority of ignitions in June, July, August and September, which is when many of our visitors are here.

To do your part in preventing fires . . . 

Campfires are not allowed. Period.

No fireworks—ever. Apart from the fire danger, apart from the fact that they're not part of the refuge experience, fireworks frighten wildlife, which is rarely, if ever, good. Frighten birds may abandon nests, leaving eggs or young to die; overwintering wildlife expand critical energy in flight.

It goes without saying that matches, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc., need to be handled carefully. If you smoke, we encourage you to carry a fire-proof container (e.g., metal can with a screw-top lid) to put all your spent materials into. In fact, almost every year the FWS is forced to issue a ban on smoking materials outside of vehicles when conditions become extreme.

Carry some sort of 'extinguisher' with you in your car. It could be everything from a commercial fire extinguisher to a container of water—something to help you put out a fire, other than trying to stomp it out with your loafers. In the alternative, a shovel is handy for putting out fires, either through stamping them out, or by tossing sand on the flames.

Speaking of cars, one of the most common ways fires are ignited in grasslands is from the catalytic converter in your car's exhaust system. While good for the environment, catalytic converters work by getting extremely hot. If you pull your car into long grass, there's a good chance the catalytic converter will catch the grass on fire. Besides, it's against Monument regulations to venture off roads and parking lots.

However, vegetation, especially 'tumbleweeds' (Russian thistle), blows onto roads. If you're driving through any areas where vegetation might get caught on the underside of your car, it's a good idea to periodically get out to clear it.  Good for the Monument, good for your car; nothing burns quite as well as a nice new car.

And we know that, occasionally, you're going to have to creep to the edge of the road to let others pass by or that you're going to have to turn around. Be careful to check your 'path' and not get bogged down in the sand. That is a sure way to bring your vehicles exhaust in contact with vegetation.

If you use a cooking stove (again, may be banned for part of the yeat), stay with it until it's cooled. Or better yet, bring cold food with you for meals. And really, hot coffee when it's 100 degrees in the shade? Water's a better bet, but if you've got to have caffeine, bring a bottled drink. The less ignition sources, the better.

Finally, if you do accidentally start a fire, remember: Safety first. If you can safely put out the fire, great. But if it's out of hand, get safely away and then dial 911. The Monument can handle a fire (in the long term), you probably not so much.


If you'd like to learn more about fire on the Monument, visit our page on Fire Ecology.