Hiking safely in the wake of wildfires means incorporating a few new rules into your repertoire:
- Stay on trails where possible, since burned vegetation is fragile. When a trail disappears in a severely charred area, follow the path of least resistance, which is likely the trail bed.
- Avoid streambeds and steep slopes during rain. The lack of vegetation means there will be heavy runoff, flash floods, and mudslides.
- Be cautious when walking around burned-out stumps since the trees’ root systems burned as well, creating hidden, ankle-twisting cavities below the surface.
- Don’t expect to use old watering holes. A lack of shady canopy raises evaporation rates, so creeks and rivers may dry up.
- Watch for falling trees, the biggest postfire hazard. Be careful about choosing campsites and sites for rest stops so you don’t get flattened if the wind kicks up. This threat lingers long after the fire’s passing. “Our magic number here is seven,” says Karen Linford, recreation staff officer for the Lolo National Forest in Idaho and Montana, “meaning that 7 years after a fire, it all starts blowing down.”