One of the most popular camping activities is building a campfire. Nothing compares to the hours spent socializing around it and cooking your favorite camping meals on it. A camping trip just isn’t the same without the smell and crackle of a campfire. While enjoying the warm glow and mesmerizing flames of your campfire, you have to keep fire safety in mind. On average there are 79 thousand wildfires in the US per year and many are caused by irresponsible campers who don’t build or attend to their fire properly. Wildlife, wind, and many other factors can spread the fire quickly and it can get out of hand very fast. Don’t take any chances that your fire will cause one of these hard-to-handle wildfires and make sure to take care of it every step of the way.
Picking Your Spot
Before you can build your fire, you have to find a spot and get it ready. It is important to evaluate the area and be aware of any fire restrictions that may be in place. There are some areas that get so dry that no matter how many safety measures you follow, campfires are still risky. In 2015, California experienced 6,337 wildfires that burned 307,598 acres and claimed the lives of 9 people due to dry land! If you are in an area that appears to be very dry, don’t make a fire. You don’t want to be responsible for starting a wildfire that rages out of control. If the campsite has an existing fire ring or pit, use it. Don’t make your own when there is already the perfect spot for it. If there isn’t an established fire pit, make your own. Make sure your fire pit is at least 15 feet away from your tent or RV, foliage, or any other flammable things. Look up and ensure there aren’t any low branches that could catch on fire.
Prepping the Pit
If you are creating your own pit, you'll want to dig down about a foot to make sure that everything will stay contained in the pit. Make the spot about 10 feet across and clear out any debris that may be there including twigs, sticks, and leaves. Now you want to go out rock hunting to collect rocks that will encircle your fire pit. Fill a bucket with water and set it near your campfire in case of an emergency. Also, stack your firewood upwind from your fire pit so that a strong breeze will not blow your fire into your stack of firewood.
Building the Fire
Building a campfire requires three types of wood: tinder, kindling, and fuel wood. You'll want to light your tinder first. This is generally a mixture of dry leaves and grass, twigs, and other small, flammable stuff. Once your tinder is lit, you'll want to begin adding your kindling. Kindling is sticks about as big around as your thumb. Once your kindling is burning, you can add your fuel wood, which is larger sticks and logs. As you build, make sure that your fire is a reasonable height. While it may be tempting to make the flames soar as high as they can, this is very dangerous and hard to control and should never be attempted. Only make it large enough to do the job of keeping you warm and cooking your campfire meals. There are other types of campfires you can make as well, such as a Log Cabin Fire.
Putting the Fire Out
Do not leave a fire unattended, even for a minute. It only takes a second for a rogue ember to blow into the wrong area and start a hard-to-control fire. Once you are done with your fire, put it out completely. Don’t leave anything smoldering because a swift breeze can come through and reignite the entire fire. Pour your bucket of water on the fire and then use a large stick to mix what’s in the fire pit to ensure that everything gets wet. Use a shovel to scoop dirt on top of the fire to help smother anything that may still be burning. If you don’t have water on hand, you can use dirt to put it out. If your fire is on the beach or in a sandy area, don’t just cover it with sand. Sand is light and allows air to flow through it and the fire won’t be completely extinguished. Someone could potentially step on it or a breeze could reignite it.
Humans are the number one cause of wildfires that destroy our land and wildlife. Many times wildfires are started carelessly by unattended campfires, burning things that should not be burned, and cigarettes that are discarded onto dry land. By following the campfire safety tips above, you're doing your part to keep our land and wildlife safe.