Campfire Safety 101

Written by Teresa Harrington on December 12, 2017

There's nothing better than sitting around a campfire on a chilly night with a cup of hot cocoa or the taste of food cooked over a fire. However, if you are not responsible with a campfire, you could cause a lot of damage to the environment and yourself. If you are building a campfire in your backyard, set up a designated fire pit. If you are camping, be sure to use any of the fire pits that are set up for campfires. If the campground or camping area doesn't have a designated fire pit, be sure that the area of the fire pit, plus about 3 feet from the pit wall, is clear of grass and debris.

Setting up a Campfire

Be sure to pick a spot that is at least 20 feet from the RV, tent or house. Once the area has been cleaned of all burnable debris, create a wall of rock or use a metal fire pit ring to keep the fire contained. For a permanent pit, dig down to the mineral dirt and then ring the pit with rocks or a metal ring. Always choose a spot that is sheltered from the wind and that is level. If you are not near a water hose, be sure to have a large container of water on hand to put out the fire should you have to do it in a hurry.

Building the Fire

You'll need tinder that burns easily, kindling and logs. The best way to get a fire started is to use the teepee method. Pile tinder such as newspaper or dry grass in the center of the fire pit. Add small twigs to the pile. Lean kindling over the top in the shape of a teepee. The tops of the sticks of kindling will support each other, making a teepee over the top of the tinder pile.
Light the tinder. Once it gets going – you may have to help it along by lightly blowing on it – and the kindling catches fire, add some more kindling and smaller sticks. Then start adding the logs to the pile.

Safety Tips

Observing the following safety rules ensure that you will enjoy a campfire and that everyone has a good time.

  • Do not use an accelerant such as alcohol, kerosene or gas to get the fire going. It could flash back on you and cause severe burns.
  • Do not cut live trees for firewood. The wood is green and won't burn, causing you to consider breaking the first safety tip.
  • If you are in a campground, ask before you use deadfall or cut down dead trees. Sometimes, they provide homes for wildlife. You may have to bring your own wood or buy firewood from the campground.
  • Fill a large bucket with water or have a hose nearby. You may have to put the fire out quickly or an errant spark may fly far enough to light up the dry grass and leaves near the fire pit.
  • Keep propane bottles, aerosol cans, gas cans and other natural and man-made flammable items away from the fire pit.
  • Always supervise kids and pets around the fire. Both, especially toddlers and pets, will be curious and stick their hands, paws and noses into the fire.
  • Keep the fire under control. While a huge fire might seem really neat, it's dangerous to let it get too big.
  • Never leave a campfire unattended. Before you go inside, be sure it's completely out and that there are no hot coals that could flame up with a gust of wind.
  • Keep the kids' toys away from the fire. A child could trip or fall while playing near the fire. And, heat from a fire could melt a toy that is close to it if the fire is large enough.
  • Teach everyone, especially kids, to drop and roll if a piece of their clothing catches on fire. Make sure everyone understands not to run.
  • Always pay attention to fire bans and advisories. Campgrounds will tell you if campfires are not allowed because of dry conditions.

How to Effectively Put a Fire Out

Allow the fire to burn down before you try to put it out. Spread the coals around and then pour water over them. Stir the coals to uncover any hidden hot coals. Add more water. Repeat the procedure until the water doesn't steam or hiss. Make sure the ashes are cool to the touch. Even hot ashes could rekindle and start another fire, and possibly a forest fire if the fire gets out of hand before you notice it.

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