Sitting around a bright campfire at night is something many enjoy. Every year, thousands of families in the US and other parts of the world make elaborate plans to go camping with their friends and relatives. For some, camping is like a beloved tradition and a bonding experience. If going camping and setting up a campfire is something you enjoy, you are going to benefit from this article.
As you probably know, it is easy for friends and family to bond in front of a campfire. That said, campers need to keep it in mind that campfires are dangerous especially when poorly handled. A great trip can be ruined if something catches fire or if someone is injured.
To ensure that your camping is safe and enjoyable, we have outlined some important things you need to know about campfire safety. This article is basically a guide to setting up and putting out a campfire.
When to build a campfire
Before going camping with your friends and families, it is important that you do some research on the campfire restriction and rules of the area you plan to visit. Every national park has its rules as to when and where to set up a campfire. Keep in mind that special restriction may be in effect, such as a campfire ban during the summer months or when it is dry or windy. Thousands of acre of public lands, like parks and forest have been destroyed by negligent and overconfident campers who built fires in restricted areas.
Recent reports show that about 60 percent of wildfires are caused by human activities such as campfires, fireworks, and smoking. So, before choosing a spot to build a campfire, it is important that you inspect it thoroughly to see if it is safe. Do well to check if any fire ban is in effect in the area you are going to be camping in.
Another issue you should give thoughts to is the availability of wood in the area you plan to set up your campfire. You are likely going to be in for a surprise if you think that all camping area are the same and are loaded with wood. Fire woods are scanty in some parks during a certain time of the year, during such period you may not even find enough wood to set up your campfire.
If woods are not available, then you should use other light sources like a flashlight or lantern, like the image above. Bringing your own wood when going camping isn’t really a good idea, this is because most parks don’t allow visitors to bring woods that are collected from other areas. The reason for this is that they may harbor disease and pest that may cause irreversible damage.
Where to build a campfire – Picking a spot
Picking a campfire spot is critical to preventing a fire from turning into wildfires and maintaining safety. To ensure safety, it is best you avoid areas that are bushy or extremely dry, as fire could spread easily and spiral out of control within minutes.
Before building a fire in any area, it is wise that you call the local agency or campground operator to learn if fires are permitted in the area.
Below are some tips that can help you choose a fireplace when conditions are safe and there is no restriction on campfires.
- Choose a site that is sheltered from winds
- Stay clear of areas with combustible solids like logs, dry leaves or mosses
- Look for an existing fire ring. If you can’t find one, choose a spot with a dirt surface
- Don’t camp under a tree or area with overhanging branches
- Build you fires twenty meters away from tents, debris, and other combustible materials.
If you aren’t sure if the spot you have in mind is safe or you have some questions, don’t hesitate to contact your campground ranger. Rangers can help you determine if a site is safe or not.
How to build a campfire
Building a fire without damaging the environment
As much as people enjoy the outdoors, it is important that we take active steps to reduce our impact. When building a campfire, give thoughts to the way you can make the site look natural when you leave.
If there is no fire ring in the area you want to build your campfire, then you can adopt the LNT philosophy (Leave No Trace). There are a handful of ways you can do this. First, you can dig a circle the size of your fire (2 to 3 feet), remove the topsoil, which is loaded with microorganisms, and set up your fire afterward.
Alternatively, you can build a mound fire. To do this, you first have to gather mineral soil and place it on a ground cloth, dig 3 to 4 inches deep and build a fire on the dirt.
Keep water or an extinguisher close by in case you encounter a spark, and so that you can easily put out the fire before going to bed.
How big is too big
See, you don’t have to set up a large bonfire to have a great camping trip. Build a fire you can easily control and put out. While there is nothing wrong with setting up bonfires, you need to keep in mind that they require more fuel, could be difficult to control and may sometimes reach the branches in dense forests. Keep in mind that a bonfire can turn into a wildfire when not properly controlled.
To be on the safe side, it is best your campfire is small, about 3 feet across. This way, it will be easier to maintain, put out and won’t cause much damage to the soil.
The right wood to use
Only use wood that you find in the vicinity of your camping spot. The wood on the floor is likely going to be dead, dry and easy to burn.
Try to organize your wood as you collect it
- First pile: Gather small pieces of wood that are like the size of a match stick. These will be excellent fire starters.
- Second pile: Make a pile of small wood that
arelike the size of a pencil or smaller.
- Third pile: Make a pile of dry sticks.
How to set up a campfire
Starting a campfire isn’t rocket science. It’s actually very straight forward if you know what you are doing. To make a great fire, you will need three types of fuel.
- Large pieces of wood
- Kindling (very small sticks)
- Tinder (Small dry leaves and twigs)
Steps to building a campfire
Whether you know a thing or two about setting up a campfire or you are on your first camping trip and know practically nothing about campfires, we are going to provide steps that will help you put things into perspective and make a fire without stressing yourself.
Find a safe spot free from combustible materials like wood, leaves, overhanging branches and that is 3 to 5 feet deep and a few meters apart.
Gather your tinder material and carefully place them in the center of the fire pit you’ve dug.
Gather your kindle and use a number of pieces to create a teepee under your carefully arranged tinder. Leave an opening on one side so that there will be enough room for you to light the fire and to allow the free flow of air.
Add a layer of firewood to make the teepee structure around bigger. Use a match or a lighter to ignite the fire after completing the structure.
As the fire burns, the teepee structure will gradually collapse. To keep the fire alive, add logs of wood to it.
The right way to extinguish your campfire
Putting out a campfire isn’t as easy as you think. It takes a lot of effort and time. So be sure to set aside at least 25 minutes to put out the fire.
Never let a fire die-out on its own. Instead, pour a bucket of water on it repeatedly. Once you have drenched your campfire pit, follow these easy steps.
- Move the mixture of soil, wood remains, and ash into the
centerof the pit and thoroughly soak it with water. Stir with a shovel to ensure that the ash is totally wet.
- If you don’t have enough water or a water source isn’t close by, then you should cover the embers with sand until it is cool.
- To determine if the fire is totally out, carefully place your hand or finger close to the fire pit. If the ash is hot, drown it with more water. On the other hand, if it is cool, then it is completely out and you can leave the site.
Effective ways to prevent your campfire from turning into a wildfire
Safety should be at the top of your priority especially when making a campfire. A moment of carelessness or negligence is all it takes for a small campfire to turn into a large, uncontrollable wildfire. To prevent this, it is important that you take proactive steps when camping to protect your family and friends as well as the environment. Below are some effective ways you can do this;
Burn only wood
Resist the urge to burn any material other than wood, as they are can create dense toxic smoke that is detrimental to health. Ensure that you have enough wood gathered before setting up your campfire. Use your insight to discern if the wood you have gathered will take you deep into the night. If you can’t find enough wood, then you should contact the park ranger in the area you are camping to see if he or she can help you out.
Don’t use gasoline
Never should you use combustible liquids or fire accelerants like gasoline, among others to increase or start your campfire. Once you have successfully ignited a fire; quickly discard the match in the fire.
Keep your campfire small
As you probably know, it feels great to see a bonfire with friends during a camping trip. That said, you need to keep in mind that they are difficult to control and put out. One reason why most parks have regulations against bonfires is that they are large and could cast hot embers that can start a fire elsewhere. Making a small campfire is the best cause of action, as it is very easy to control and put out. Exercise caution when adding firewood to a small campfire. Adding a lot of wood within a short period to a small fire can make it grow large or even out of control.
Keep an eye on you campfire at all times
Turning your eye away from your campfire for a couple for minutes is a recipe for disaster. Wind and dry leaves can intensify a small fire when you are not looking or blow its embers into the nearby bush. Before you know it, you will have a raging wildfire on your hand.
In fact, it is required by the state law that campers stay with their campfire from the moment it starts till it is dead. To ensure that embers and sparks don’t escape and start a fire after your departure, it is important that you put out your fire completely before leaving.
Choose the right area
The importance of choosing the right areas when camping cannot be overemphasized. To ensure safety, it is wise you avoid building your fire near vehicles, trees, shrubs, structures or your tent, and be aware of low-hanging branches. Dig the spot you plan to set up your fire at least five feet and circle it with rocks before setting up your fire. Unused wood should be kept at a good distance away from your campfire.
Don’t make campfires in the summer
As you probably know, wildfires are very common in the summer months, as the weather is dry. To reduce the odds of you starting a wildfire, it is best you use camp stoves and other campfire alternatives.
Do your research before heading out
Before embarking on a camping trip, it is important that you first know the location of your fire district or your local forestry; this will help you learn if there is any restriction at your destination.
Always have fire tools and water close by
Keep a shovel and a bucket of water close by to extinguish hot embers from the fire. You can take a fire extinguisher as an alternative if you cannot carry a lot of water with you. Do well to check if it is working before taking it with you on your camping trip.
Drown the embers with water, stir coals and drown again. Repeat the process until the fire is completely out. Take your hands close to the remains of your campfire to see if it still hot. If it is too hot to touch, drown it with more water until it is completely out and cold.
Escaped campfires: The law requires proper building, attending and extinguishing of campfires every time of the year. Ignoring the state’s law as regards outdoor fire safety could attract a huge fine. If your campfire spreads out of control, you are going to shoulder the cost of putting it out, which could range from a couple of hundreds to thousands of dollars. You may even serve a jail term if a wildfire that resulted from your carelessness kills someone.
Keeping kids safe around campfires
While kids can make a camping trip more fun and enjoyable, it is essential that you take proactive steps to avoid potential injuries. Keep in mind that most children-camping related injuries are linked to campfires.
The following tips will help your kids stay safe around a campfire.
- Do not let little kids or toddlers roast his or her own marshmallow. Doing this will reduce the odds of them burning themselves by accident.
- Carefully explain the dangers. As you know, toddlers know little or nothing about fire safety, so it is good you clearly explain the potential dangers and basic rules.
- Don’t let your kids get too close to the campfire. Create a safe zone by marking an area away from the campfire to show how close your kids can get.
- Always keep your eyes on them. This might sound obvious, but it is easy to forget or overlook when you at your campsite.
Steps to take when a campfire gets out of control
One cannot be too careful when dealing with fire as it can spread and spiral out of control easily and cause large scale damages within minutes. Even when you follow all the fire safety rules, there is still a 1% possibility that your campfire can get out of control. Below are some things you should do when this happens.
- Do all you can to keep the fire from spreading from your campsite to surrounding bushes or around the forest, as it could cause a wildfire. Use a fire extinguisher or water to keep flames at bay and prevent them from spreading.
- Check if anybody is hurt. Call 911 or the park ranger if anybody is seriously injured.
- Make sure the fire hasn’t damaged your supplies or the items you need to survive like- food, sleeping bags, and tents and so on.
- Try not to lose your cool especially when you are the leader of the group or are in a position where people look up to you. Freaking out and panicking is not going to do you any good. Rather, it is going to make a bad situation worse, as you will be more likely to make the wrong call or do something rash.
Steps to keep a wildfire at bay and prevent it from spreading
As previously mentioned, the one thing you must never do in this scenario is to lose your cool or panic. You can help your family members and friends stay calm by telling them what to do. Take control of the situation and delegate specific tasks to them to keep them on track and organized
Below are some suggestions you should take note of if you aren’t sure of what you want them to do.
- Move chairs, tents, food, and other items far away from the fire or out of its path.
- Tell everyone to put their shoes on (to make sure that no one steps on burning embers)
- Soak blankets and towels with water and use it to smother the fire.
- Keep kids, injured people, and pets far away from the fire.
- Pour water on the edge of the flame, working your way in gradually.
- Use bowl, buckets and large containers to take water from any water source close to your campsite
If kids are around, they are likely going to start crying and focus on keeping un-important and replaceable items like toys, books, or stuff animals safe. It is essential that you assign an adult to take care of the kids and keep them from getting in the way or do anything that will slow down your efforts to put out the flame.
Call for help
If the fire gets too big or out of control and you don’t think you and your fellow campers can put it out, then you should call the ranger station or 911. Delegate a driver to head quickly to the nearest ranger station if there is no signal in your campsite.
Camping is a fun, and amazing outdoor activity that creates a window for family members and close friends to bond, have a great time and create amazing memories they aren’t going to forget in a hurry. That said, it is wise the campers take extra care when setting up their campfire as it could spiral out of control within seconds. Before leaving the site, campers have to ensure that their campfire is totally out.
Granted, following the many campfire safety tips that are available may be difficult, but it will go a long way in reducing the odds of your campfire spreading and starting an uncontrollable wildfire.