Campfire Safety 101
Enjoying the great outdoors during the summertime can be fun. Nothing says summer quite like sitting around the campfire sharing stories and making s’mores. But that campfire is also a huge responsibility. Everyone in California knows the damage a wildfire can bring, so before you go out and make a campfire, it’s important you learn how to be safe when building your campfire or bonfire, whether in the woods or in your backyard.
PICK THE RIGHT CAMPFIRE LOCATION
- If the campground or area where you are prohibits campfires, then DO NOT build one. Digging pits can be prohibited due to any number of various concerns. Whatever the reason, there is a reason – so be sure to follow the rules.
- DO NOT build a campfire under hazardous or dry conditions. Dry air increases the risk of wildfires.
- If there is an existing fire ring or pit, then use that. If not, choose a site that is at least 15 feet from tent walls, trees, shrubs, or other flammable objects. Be mindful of low hanging branches.
- When building a campfire or bonfire, choose a location that is open and away from heavy fuels such as logs, brush, or decaying leaves.
- Always be aware of wind strength and direction. If the wind picks up and direction changes, there could suddenly be embers and ashes flying into easily flammable areas. Choose a spot that is protected from gusts of wind.
HOW TO PREPARE A CAMPFIRE PIT
There may not always be a campfire pit already prepared when you arrive on a campsite. If that’s the case, don’t panic! Follow these simple steps to preparing your own fire pit.
- Start off by clearing an area that is 10 feet in diameter around the campsite. Remove any grass, twigs, leaves, or firewood while you do so.
- Dig a pit about one foot deep in the dirt or sand.
- Circle the pit with rocks and you’re ready to go!
BUILDING YOUR CAMPFIRE
Your pit is ready, now it’s time to build your fire!
- Before you do anything, make sure you have a source of water, a bucket, and a shovel nearby at all times.
- You’ll have to gather three types of wood from the ground. Tinder can be small twigs and dry leaves, grass, and needles. For kindling you should look for sticks smaller than 1″ around. Your fuel will be larger pieces of wood. Keep these stacked upwind and away from the fire.
NEVER cut whole trees or branches, dead or alive. Live materials won’t burn, and you’ll also be damaging the forest. Dead standing trees can often be homes for birds or other wildlife.
- Loosely pile a few handfuls of your tinder in the center of the fire pit.
- Add the kindling in one of four methods: Teepee, Lean-to, Cross, or Log Cabin.
- Ignite the tinder with a match or lighter. (If you use a match, wait until it is cold to discard it onto the fire)
- As the fire grows, continue to add more tinder.
- Blow lightly at the base of the fire.
- Add kindling and fuel (the larger firewood) to the keep the fire going.
- Now that you have built your fire, keep it small and under control.
EXTINGUISHING YOUR CAMPFIRE
- If possible, allow the wood to burn completely to ash.
- Pour A LOT of water onto the fire. Drown ALL embers, not just the red ones. Keep pouring until the hissing sound stops.
- If you do not have water, stir dirt and sand into the embers with a shovel to bury the fire.
- Using your shovel, scrape any remaining sticks and logs to remove any embers. Make sure there aren’t any embers are exposed or still smoldering.
- Continue to add water, dirt or, sand, and stir with a shovel until all material is cool.
- If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
There you have it! Have fun but most importantly, be safe when building a campfire!!