We were camping at Split Rock campground, just downstream from Dog Island that night. It was hot and windy, and I had fallen asleep after several hours of trying to get my six year old daughter and two year old nephew to sleep. My wife woke me up around 23:00 to tell me that there was a wildfire she wanted me to look at. Despite the wind direction being in our favor, we were concerned with our distance to the fire (about 1/2 mile) and started to rouse the group from sleep. After watching the fire for a while and discussing our options, we decided that if the wind shifted toward us our camp site would be in peril quickly and that it was time to pack up and be ready to put on the water in the dark.
As we packed up the final pieces of our camp, the wind did shift towards us, and the conditions at our camp site degraded quickly as the fire turned our way. We put on the water around midnight with heavy smoke and ash.
This was my daughter and nephew's first overnight on the river, and one of the first trips at the oars for one member of our party. It was awful watching the fire get into the crowns of those beautiful old cottonwoods, listening to my daughter cry as we floated down the river choking on the smoke, and hearing an inexperienced friend at the oars recount their encounter with a mid-river rock that almost flipped them in the dark of the night.
Everybody makes mistakes, but the disregard to the weather conditions and fire ban by the parties responsible for this fire has me agreeing that the penalties should be severe.