Campfires 101

Safety first. This is always a good rule when fishing and hunting. Thinking ahead will help anticipate typical problems and keep you alert and ready. This applies to so many things such as equipment, water safety, and building a fire. I am particularly concerned about the latter since most people give the first two their full attention and neglect the ins and outs of campfire practice. Smokey the Bear is there for good reason! Why not follow his wise rules.

First and foremost, you have to know what you are doing. This is not like adding wood to your indoor fireplace or turning on the gas. A little know-how is in order. Once you decide on a good pre-selected spot, and it is not too dry and hazardous to continue, you can look for existing pits. They are likely to be well away from tents and nearby trees. Check for any other flammable objects, says Smokey.

After the eagle eye tour of your area, you can fill the pit with small pieces of dry wood. Here comes the safety part: keep a buck of water and a shovel close at hand. If you are not using an existing pit, you will have to carefully clear an area, dig a pit, and circle it with rocks.

To continue with Campfires 101: Gather your tinder, kindling and fuel. If you are not familiar with them, you should not be in charge of building the fire! The fuel, by the way, consists of the larger pieces of wood. You pile them loosely to allow oxygen between layers. There are several “styles” of stacking the fuel including forming a tent or crisscross pattern. Now you can get out the matches or lighter. Add wood as the fire grows and blow on it at the base. Here’s the safety part: keep it under complete control.

So far so good. Before I lose your attention, you have a bit more to learn. You have to maintain the fire and then extinguish it properly later. While you add wood as needed, you should always be mindful of a manageable size. The safety part is watching pets and children and protecting them at all times. You should also know not to cut live tree branches or leave your fire unattended. Rules, rules—but they are for your own good.

Finally, it is time to put the fire out. The definition of that in my book is that you can touch it. The wood has burned to ash and you have poured water on all the embers, glowing or not. After all hissing has stopped, you can stir it all with a shovel. An extra ounce of safety means scraping any remaining logs for embers. Take that extra step: it is well worth it!

We are almost done. After the dousing, adding dirt will ensure complete ember obliteration. Many well-meaning campers have ignored all the steps and have caused destructive forest fires. It is an obligation to do it right every time. You are not actually burying the fire with the dirt as it can continue to smolder. You are stirring the whole time. With knowledge about safety, you can feel confident about your camping experience and enjoy the wonderful wilds.