Two types of lessons can be learned from this incident — what the hiker did right, and what he did wrong.
What he did right:
- He climbed to a high point where he could be seen from a distance by rescuers.
- He decided to aid the rescuers by using a visible signal.
- He chose fire as his visible signal device. A mirror would have been much more effective and less hazardous. A PLB would be the very best choice, because it transmits the distress signal along with exact GPS coordinates so the rescue team doesn't have to waste time searching empty ground.
- Evidently, he didn't clear the area sufficiently to prevent his signal fire embers from straying into dry fuel.
- When the helicopter arrived and the hiker could see that the crew had spotted him, he failed to bury the fire with dirt to prevent the rotor downdraft from spreading embers into the brush.
If you decide to use a signal fire (or a fire for any reason):
- Build it on mineral soil so underground organic material doesn't start to burn and spread the fire underground.
- Clear the area both around the fire and overhead, so there is no possibility that embers can ignite dry material.
- Keep the fire small so it's easy to control.
- Have loose dirt or water nearby to extinguish the fire.
- As you feed wood into the fire, do it gently so as not to send a bunch of sparks into the air.