A roaring campfire is often a staple of the camping experience. A campfire to cook food or keep warm is an asset at any campground, and in the evening hours, a fire can provide a sense of security against inquisitive forest animals. A burning fire can also illuminate a campsite, which makes maneuvering around the site easier.
Although there are many benefits to having a campfire, it's important to note that fires, especially in very dry conditions, can be dangerous. It is essential to check a particular campsite or park's posting about drought conditions to avoid an accident. In the wrong conditions, a cozy fire for toasting marshmallows can grow into an out-of-control wildfire in a matter of seconds.
Starting a fire
When you are ready to start a fire it is important to keep safety in mind.
* Pick a safe spot to light the fire. Many campfires have fire rings for campers to use. If you are selecting a fire location on your own, choose an area away from brush or other easily ignitable material. Make a ring with large rocks to keep the fire from spreading. Keep the fire several feet away from your tent.
* Gather materials during the day so you will not be scrambling for them after dark. You will need both tinder and kindling to light a fire and keep it roaring. Tinder is any small, highly flammable material that can light and burn quickly. Fibrous plant material, small twigs and newspaper make good tinder. Kindling is small pieces of wood that will burn long enough to catch larger logs of wood on fire. Finally, you will need a few logs of thicker wood that will sustain the fire. Have plenty of material on hand to be able to continue the fire, or you may find yourself foraging in the darkness when the fire goes out.
* Create a teepee or X pattern for a well-burning fire. Layer your tinder as the first level of the fire. Stack a few pieces of kindling on top of the tinder in an X or teepee shape. Ensure there is enough air to move freely through the fire to make ignition easier. Light the tinder from four compass points to get it all to light. Slowly blow air into the fire to allow it to burn hot enough to catch the kindling. Continue to add small pieces of kindling until you have a nicely sized fire. Then you can add larger pieces of dry wood for a big blaze.
* Do not use accelerants when starting a fire or keeping it going. Avoid the use of chemicals, including lighter fluid and other accelerants in your campfire. Do not use chemically treated paper or plastic materials in kindling, as they can produce noxious fumes and smoke. Accelerants can cause the fire to burn out of control. Keep the fire contained to what you can manage, and always keep a watchful eye on the fire.
Maintaining the Fire
You may need to fiddle with the fire from time to time to vent it and allow for equal burning. Having an ample amount of wood on hand will enable you to feed the fire easily. It's much easier to keep a fire going than start from scratch once it has burned out, especially in the dark.
Be mindful of embers that drift in windy conditions. Also, do not put your face or body directly over a fire. If the wood pops, you could be burned. Children should be carefully supervised when around a campfire.
Extinguishing the Fire
After building your campfire, completely put it out when you are done. Thousands of acres of wilderness are burnt from carelessness with regard to campfires.
* Put out the fire a half hour to an hour before you plan to leave the campground. There should be mostly ash and few chunks of coal left if you have planned accordingly and started to wind down the fire before extinguishing it.
* Use a stick to stir up the wood and ash and distribute the burning coals and embers. This is to extinguish any remaining flames as much as you can.
* Pour water over the hot ashes to drown all embers. It's not just the red embers you have to worry about. Pour water until all the hissing sounds stop. Avoid standing directly above the fire when you pour the water because it will generate a lot of steam and smoke. If you do not have water on hand, mix dirt or sand with the embers to smother the flames. Continue to do so until the material is cool.
* Stir the ashes again with a shovel or stick to further ensure the fire is not still burning.
* Make sure everything is wet and cold to the touch before you leave the campsite. If the fire area is too hot to the touch, it's too hot to leave it because a fire may reignite.
* Once you feel that everything is cool, you can scoop the coals and ash into a bag and carry it out of the woods for disposal.
Knowing how to safely light, maintain and extinguish a fire is an essential component of safe camping.