It doesn’t matter what season it is, campfires are a staple for any camping trip. Sitting under the stars by a crackling fire has its appeal. From telling scary stories to roasting marshmallows, campfires bring family and friends together. Campfires can also be very dangerous if they are not handled with caution. Every year campfire accidents sends children and adults to the emergency room. Burns account for 74% of all children’s camping injuries, and nearly 50% of the children burned are less than four years old.
Following some simple steps will help you to enjoy your campfire safely.
First, make sure you are at a site that allows campfires, and always follow the campfire rules for the area where you are camping. Some parks and towns prohibit fires at different times of the year, like during periods of high fire danger.
When possible build your campfire in an established campfire ring, first clearing it of debris.
If no ring is available and you’re allowed to have a campfire, choose a spot that’s at least 15 feet from your tent, gear, and anything flammable. Try to select somewhere with a natural windbreak. Clear a 10-foot diameter area around your campfire spot down to dirt by removing leaves, grass, and anything burnable. Don’t build your campfire near plants or under tree limbs or other flammable material hanging overhead. If allowed, dig a pit for your campfire, about 1-foot deep, in the center of your cleared area, and build a fire ring around the pit with rocks to create a barrier.
Firewood can often be collected from the natural environment where you may be camping but it is important that you respect any restrictions that are in place, particularly if you are camping in a National Park. If you are allowed to collect wood from the area you are in, ensure it is only fallen branches; never take wood from standing trees. Remember to keep your collected firewood away from the campfire area.
It is always good to know what the weather will be like when you’re camping because sudden wind gusts can blow sparks everywhere causing unexpected fires. When you are ready to start your campfire be sure to keep a shovel and bucket of water nearby, and don’t use any type of flammable liquid to start your fire. Your campfire should be built no larger than necessary and should never be left unattended.
Never leave children alone around a fire. A good idea is to make sure that all family members know how to “Stop, Drop, and Roll”. If your clothes catch fire, Stop, Drop to the ground and cover your face with your hands, then Roll over and over or back and forth until the fire is out. Be sure to teach this to your children and even practice the steps together.
Don’t burn dangerous things like aerosol cans, pressurized containers, glass, plastic, or aluminum cans. They could explode, shatter and/or create harmful fumes or dust, and when the fire is out they leave an ugly industrial looking mess.
When it’s time to go home, don’t extinguish the campfire with just dirt or sand. Buried coals can smolder and re-ignite later.
Whenever possible, allow your campfire to burn out completely to ashes. This requires a little planning ahead, but it will help a lot when it is time to extinguish the fire. Don’t wait until you’re ready to leave to begin putting out the campfire. Start this process even before you start packing up your camp.
Next, drown the campfire ashes with water. Use your shovel to stir the ashes and make sure all embers, coals, and sticks are wet. Be sure to scrape around the edges and between the rocks to get all the embers and ash mixed in. Continue adding water and stirring until all the material is cool. Check by holding your bare hand just above the wet ashes, especially around the edges of the fire. If you feel heat, stir in more water. If it’s too hot to touch, then it’s too hot to leave.
If you built the campfire ring, and once the ashes are cold, disassemble your fire ring and scatter the rocks. Try to return the spot to how you found it.
Careless campers are often the cause of wildfires, so it is extremely important to ensure you keep your campfire under control, and always extinguish it completely before you leave. Keep your campfire from becoming the next wildfire.
Sitting around a campfire with family and friends is how lasting memories are made. Don’t add a wildfire or injuries to that list.