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'Bucket Trees' keep campsites wildfire-free

A "Bucket Tree" at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Leah Eskelin
A "Bucket Tree" at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Earlier this month, girls from Soldotna-based Troop 210 were recognized for an advancement in the area of campfire safety. The invention, dubbed “Bucket Trees,” has already been implemented at campsites in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and will be brought to more sites around the state later this year.

“We saw a problem and we wanted to try to help it,” said Kadie Newkirk, one of the scouts who helped develop the invention.

Similar in shape to a small tree, the simple wood structure sports three branches that hold plastic buckets. When placed near a water source like a lake or river, the device allows campers of all abilities to extinguish campfires with the buckets.

The invention provides the first step in the “drown, stir, and feel” method, a fire extinguishing technique that state and federal agencies have pushed to educate campers on campfire safety.

“Hopefully we can stop human-made wildfires, or at least help so that people don’t lose their homes,” Newkirk said.  

The four girls behind the bucket trees began designing their product in 2022. They were inspired by the human-caused 2014 Funny River Fire, which troop member Caitlyn Eskelin’s dad helped fight.

Her mom, Leah, worked communications during the firefighting efforts and is the troop’s scout leader.

“What everyone saw at Caring for the Kenai was this idea that’s already been tested and improved, and it’s all because these girls stayed on it," she said. "We didn’t force the issue, it was because they saw the need, but also the potential.”

Since the prototype, the project has grown extensively. Eskelin says government agencies, like the state’s Department of Natural Resources, have requested blueprints for the bucket trees.

“We watched these girls grow up, so we knew that they had greatness inside them," Eskelin said. "I think what’s been really cool is to watch them take a committed project that they had kind of worked on together, grow it.” 

The Caring for the Kenai competition awarded the scouts a cash prize of $1,600. Newkirk says other groups in the running had great ideas and were surprised she and her troop members won.

“Even if you don’t have a bucket tree near you, you can still find a water bottle and a stick and use the same technique, and it will still work the same way without the bucket trees," Newkirk said. "Our bucket trees are there to help people who maybe don’t have those items close.” 

“It was really cool that the girls worked hard to get that, both for safety, but also so that they could share it,” Eskelin said. “The only way to have success is to share your good ideas and make them grow, right?.” 

The winning scout troop also includes Emma Hindman and Lyberty Stockman. The girls will soon meet with local groups to spread their creation and hope to bring bucket trees to campsites in the Lower 48.

You can request blueprints of the bucket trees from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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