Flares and forests are a bad mix

The chief suspect in the Cedar fire in San Diego County is a lost hunter who allegedly launched a signal flare in hopes of being rescued. Firing a flare when lost in the woods is a bad move, experts say.

More than 276,000 acres burned, 14 people died and more than 2,200 homes were destroyed in the Cedar fire.

Steve Edinger, the California Department of Fish and Game's acting assistant chief for enforcement from Santa Barbara to San Diego, said, "Obviously, a signal flare is created for water. It's not something built for a forest, especially a dry one."

He noted that to get a license, hunters must take a safety class; it stresses the STOP program, which stands for "sit down, think, observe and plan." But the planning should start before you're on the trail. There are common-sense steps you can take to avoid getting lost, Edinger added. They include bringing a good map, using the buddy system, scouting the area and planning to be back to camp or car an hour before sunset. And, he said, "you have to be prepared to spend the night if you're lost or injured."

Survival expert Ron Hood, whose Idaho-based company makes outdoor videos, believes the best survival tool these days is the cellphone. He also recommended the GMRS/FRS radio service, the modern-day version of the citizens band radio. He cited a range of two miles and more for the devices in good weather conditions.

"Choice three," he noted, "is a flashlight at night."

On an even more low-tech note, Edinger and Hood suggested that anyone going into the forest should at the very least have a whistle to sound the international distress signal -- three blasts in a row. Hood cautioned against screaming unless there is no other choice.

"If people hear you screaming, they say, 'Oh no, I'm not going over there.' "

-- J. Michael Kennedy

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