Campfires are the most consistently wonderful part of camping. Cloudy and can’t see the views? – At least we have a cozy campfire! It’s cold out? – Warm up by the fire! Really tired? – Watching the fire qualifies as active camping engagement. The mesmerizing flames bring out our funniest stories, cook the tastiest food, and remind us that life is good.
A knee-jerk reaction to the destruction caused by recent years’ many wildfires might be to swear off campfires completely, however, such drastic measures are thankfully not necessary. With proper adherence to the following guidelines, you can rest assured that your small campfire will warm your marshmallows, your rosy cheeks, and not a thing more!
Know Local Fire Restrictions
Before you even consider building a fire, it’s important to know about the existence of any current fire bans, whether in the county, state, or even a specific campground. Research this before you leave home just in case you don’t have service once you get to your spot. A hefty fine or (much worse) creating a dangerous situation are things you can easily avoid with some preparation.
Use Existing Pits When Possible
If there are existing firepits or fire rings, use ‘em!
Setting Up a Firepit
If there is no existing pit, get ready to build your own by following these steps:
- Ideally, find a spot that is on top of sand or gravel
- Ensure that your spot is far from any low-hanging tree branches
- Clear away all leaves or dried grass for a 7-10’ radius
- Designate a circular area about 2’ wide for the fire
- Gather enough large stones to create a short wall about 6” tall surrounding your fire
Safety During the Fire
- Never leave a fire unattended
- Only burn wood bought or gathered in the area to avoid spreading diseases to plants
- Have a bucket of water on hand at all times
- Build fires only as big as you could contain with your single bucket of water
- Burn only materials that will turn to ash – no plastics or metals
- Keep a safe distance, as embers can jump from the fire and hot stones will melt the soles of your hiking boots!
Extinguishing Your Fire
- Extinguish with water
- Use a stick or a long handled shovel to stir the ashes and locate embers that are still alive
- Repeat steps 1 & 2 several times until no more embers can be seen
- Wait a few minutes
- Do a final generous pour, just for good measure
- Make sure the coals are cold before leaving it unattended
After the fire is cool in the morning, tidy up.
- Scatter ash and broken-up charred logs over a wide area away from the campsite
- Take apart the stones and place in their original spots
- Erase as much evidence of the fire as possible
A few final reminders
- Make sure your tent is at least 50 to 75 feet away from the campfire
- Bring your own shovels and buckets for properly building and extinguishing fires
- Consider taking a small fire extinguisher on camping trips in case you have a fire emergency
And voila! You’ve created and enjoyed a safe and fun campfire experience. Using these steps, you will always be able to make the most out of a campout and can do your part to ensure that yourself and our beautiful outdoor areas remain safe.
Brianna A. is a friendly local librarian turned travel/adventure writer who loves to learn about the world…and then write about it.