Keeping campfires fun and safe

Sitting around a fire is one of the joys of camping. Here are a few tips to keep everyone and the surrounding environment safe.

Pick your time

If it’s windy and particularly if it’s dry hot and windy, forget a campfire.  It can be too dangerous.  Often there are official fire restrictions on these days, but local conditions sometimes need personal judgement.  If there are fire restrictions, keep to them.

Be aware if the weather might change in the next few hours.  If the wind is likely to pick up, keep the fire small and easy to extinguish

Pick your spot

Many campgrounds have designated spots for campfires.  Stick to them.  They’ve hopefully been placed in a good location, away from overhanging branches and the ground around may have been cleared.

If you’re starting a campfire spot, pick somewhere with plenty of clearance above and around.  There should be nothing at least 3 times the height of the flames.  Clear grass and leaves from the surrounding area and check the soil.  If it’s peat soil, don’t light a fire at all on the ground as fire on peat soils are almost impossible to extinguish.  Be aware fire can travel via root systems, so it’s best to light a fire on something non-flammable.  Otherwise, dig a pit for your fire.  It’s best not to take stones from a river for a fire as there is a small chance water inside might cause the stone to shatter.

Start small and keep it small

We’re talking campfire here, not bonfire, right?  Tiny fires are cosier than huge ones, with the added bonus that less wood needs to be lugged around. They are also much safer.  They are less likely to get out of control and easier to douse.

Plan how to douse it

Have a plan on how to put the fire out when you’re finished with it or things getting dangerous.  Fires can burn for days afterwards, then reignite in hot gusty winds.

Have water nearby in a hose or buckets.  If water is scarce, make sure there’s a shovel or spade, and soil to extinguish the fire. Know what to do before you need to do it.

Don’t cheat with the igniter fluids

They certainly get a fire going, but fuels and fire lighting fluids are dangerous.  Use the chance to practice bushcraft skills.  Most don’t have to go as far as rubbing too sticks together, but matches and some paper or dried grass should do the trick.

Everyone knows the deal

Make sure everyone knows the rules around campfires, particularly kids.  Every year hundreds of children, and adults, are treated for burns from campfires.

Wear fire retardant clothes.  Even the best laid fires can shoot out sparks.  If those sparks land on material that easily ignites or melts, it hurts.  Wool clothes are the best natural option.

Everyone should know that, if someone does catch alight, they must drop and roll to extinguish the flames.  Have a wool or fire blanket handy to help smother flames.  Pour as much clean water as possible over the burns as possible and seek medical help.

Walk, don’t run around campfires, and even better, only move around them at a distance that, if you do fall, you fall on ground, not in the fire.  Same with seating.  People should sit far enough away they’re unlikely to tip in to the fire.  Camp seating is usually stable, but not always.

Keep an eye on it and extinguish it when you’re done

Never leave any campfire unattended, and make sure the fire is out before leaving.  It should be cold enough to touch and no longer smoking.  Every year thousands of acres of the wild are burnt by escaped campfires.

For more information, Smokey B Bear has a lot to say on the subject.

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