Campfires can provide warmth, cooking opportunities, and a sense of community in the wilderness, but they also come with some inherent risks. In order to safely create and manage campfires, it is important to understand the basics of campfire safety. In this article, we will discuss the most important campfire safety tips for beginners.
The Danger of Campfires
There are many reasons why caution is essential when enjoying and tending to a campfire. Most immediate is the potential chance that you could burn yourself if you are not careful. While the flames are dangerous, there are other elements of a fire, including smoke, that can be dangerous if inhaled for a long period of time. The act of burning wood and other objects also puts particles into the air, and if they are inhaled, it can lead to health ailments.
Then, there are numerous risks if your fire gets out of control. While some start because of a lightning strike or excessive heat, most wildfires are caused by human carelessness. That might include improperly fortifying your fire pit and allowing the flames to easily escape or forgetting to put the fire out when you are done with it.
If a wooded area is experiencing excessively dry temperatures or the forest has a lot of trees or plants that are rich in resins and oils, they can burn much faster. If a fire is not caught immediately, then it can spread within seconds. Over time, a fire can destroy hundreds of miles of forests and even spread to residential areas.
There are far too many stories on the news about blazing forest fires that have gone completely out of control, and you do not want to be responsible for providing the first spark. Keep fire safety as your top priority.
Safety Tips for Every Campfire
Now that we have discussed the dangers of campfires, let’s go over some campfire safety tips that will help you enjoy your time while keeping yourself, and others, safe.
Choose Your Location Wisely
One of the most important aspects of campfire safety is choosing a safe location for your fire. You should avoid areas with low-hanging branches, leaves, and other combustible materials. If possible, you should also choose an area that is already clear of any vegetation.
Clear a Ten-Foot Circle
Once you have chosen your location, you should clear a ten-foot circle around your campfire. This will help create a barrier between the fire and any flammable materials.
Build a Fire Ring
If you have chosen an area that does not already have a fire ring, you should build one. This will help contain the fire and prevent it from spreading. To build a fire ring, use rocks, bricks, or metal to create a circle around your campfire.
Use Dry Wood
Wet wood can be difficult to light and will produce a lot of smoke. You should only use dry wood that is less than six inches in diameter.
Light the Fire with Matches Or Fire Starter Kit
You should never use gasoline, lighter fluid, or any other flammable liquids to start your campfire. Instead, use matches or a lighter.
Don’t Leave Your Fire Unattended
You should never leave your campfire unattended, even for a short period of time. If you need to leave the area, make sure that the fire is completely extinguished.
Extinguish Your Fire Properly
When you are ready to extinguish your campfire, pour water on the fire and stir the ashes until they are cool to the touch. You should also feel for any heat emanating from the ashes before leaving the area. Double check this, as it can sometimes be difficult to feel embers underneath other extinguished embers.
Manager Your Fire Size
You should always keep your campfire small to minimize the risk of it getting out of control. If the fire does get too big, you can suffocate it by pouring dirt or sand on top of it.
Never Burn Toxic Materials
You should never burn toxic materials, such as plastics or pressure-treated wood, in your campfire. These materials can release harmful chemicals into the air.
Be Careful with Fireworks
Fireworks and campfires don’t mix. If you are using fireworks, make sure that they are far away from your campfire.
Follow Local Fire Bans
If there is a fire ban in place, make sure that you follow it. Even if there is no fire ban, you should use your best judgement before lighting a campfire.
Avoid Windy Or Very Dry Days
Even if a fire ban isn’t in place, take note of the weather. If high winds are occuring, a fire is rarely a good idea. If the surrounding area is extremely dry and flammable, it probably is best to simply avoid having a fire all together.
Ventilate Your Area
Make sure the fumes of your fire have a place to go, and will easily be swept upwards, or away by a breeze. Do not light a campfire in an enclosed space like a tent, or have a tarp system that doesn’t have good ventilation.
Use Local Firewood
Never transport firewood more than necessary. Use the most local source of wood possible as transporting wood can transport harmful insects or diseases that can damage forests greatly.
Recapping Common Sense Fire Safety
There are general safety rules that you will want to remember and implement during every campfire. For starters, you should always prepare to have water available in case the fire gets out of control. You can also be proactive by pouring a perimeter of water around the fire ring just in case a flame jumps out. If you do not have water, then you can use a shovel to immediately throw sand or dirt onto the flames to extinguish them.
With that in mind, it is important that you never leave a campfire unattended. It only takes one moment for a flame to jump out and spread through a forest. If you need to leave for any reason, then extinguish the fire completely. Also, never leave kids or pets unattended by the fire so they are not unintentionally harmed.
There are other external factors that you should be aware of as well. For instance, if you use a match to light the fire, then be sure that the match is completely extinguished before you dispose of it in a trash bin, as it could reignite. Also, always be aware of the wind. If a strong gust comes along, then it could spread the fire in places where you don’t want it to go, and it can result in a wildfire.
As you can see, there are many different tips and best practices to remember when enjoying your next campfire. Consider this advice and have a blast during your outdoor adventure.
Prepare and Have a Plan of Action
The act of being safe around a campfire starts before you even leave for the trip. You need to plan your adventure accordingly so that you have what you need to start the fire and keep it secure. For instance, unless you are provided with it at the site, you will want to bring enough firewood when camping. If you haven’t done much camping in the past and are a little anxious, then consider taking a class on fire safety. If you are still not confident, then hire and bring along a hiking / backpacking guide with fire safety experience.
If you are going hiking or hunting with a partner and plan to have a campfire at some point, then you will want to have a conversation with them and ensure that you are both on the same page. Talk about each other’s experience level and how familiar they are with fire safety. It’s possible that one of you knows more than the other and can take the lead in taking care of the fire properly. You should also compare both of your packing lists to ensure that you have what you need to stay safe.
While your goal is to avoid an issue in the first place, you should also have a plan for what you will do if you are injured or the fire gets out of control. Research online and look for local medical care facilities near where you are traveling so you know where to go if you are hurt. If you are planning on traveling overseas, then you should also research where healthcare is available and how your insurance will work in that particular country.
By following these campfire safety tips, you can enjoy your campfire while keeping yourself and others safe. Remember, a campfire is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, but it is also a great responsibility. Always be cautious and take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe and fun experience for everyone involved.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about