Everyone loves a campfire. Sitting around the soft, flickering light while the cool evening nips at your back. Enjoying the company of friends and family while sharing stories and roasting marshmallows.
Campfires can be the exclamation point at the end of a fun-filled day. But the last people you want to see at your campfire are Wildland Firefighters.
The National Park Service estimates that more than 90% of wildland fires in the U.S. are caused by humans, and the majority of human-caused wildfires are the result of unattended or uncontrolled campfires.
Campfire safety begins with knowing where and how to build a safe fire.
- Check for any fire restrictions or fire bans in the area where you are. Keep in mind that fire conditions may change and that parts of the US (particularly in the western states) tend to be dry, which can increase fire danger. Even if there are no fire restrictions, if conditions are extremely dry or windy, campfires can be extremely hazardous and common sense dictates erring on safety and not having a campfire.
- If your campsite already has a fire ring or pit, use it. Be sure that your tent, walls, trees, or shrubs are at least 15 feet away from the fire pit. Do not locate campfires under low-hanging branches. Try to keep campfire locations in areas that are protected from the wind.
- Use a level ground location, and clear away any fuels like dry grasses, logs, brush, and leaves within a 10-foot diameter of the fire pit. Store firewood upwind and outside of the 10-foot clear area. The pit should be about a foot deep in the ground and ringed with rocks, cinder blocks, metal, or other non-combustible material.
- Make sure you have a plentiful source of water, a bucket, and a shovel nearby at all times when you are having a campfire.
- Burn only wood in the campfire. Do not burn trash, bottles, cans, batteries, or other non-wood items as they can explode or release toxic fumes, which can harm you, your loved ones, and the environment. Paper trash can become airborne from the heat of the fire and blow beyond your cleared safe zone, possibly starting a spot fire.
- Keep your campfire reasonable for the environment and conditions. Many areas restrict your campfire size to no more than 3 feet by 3 feet by 2 foot high flames. Dry or windy conditions are cause for smaller fire sizes. NEVER leave a campfire unattended—not even for a minute.
After you are done enjoying your campfire, it needs to be properly extinguished.
- If possible, allow the wood to burn completely to ash under human supervision.
- Pour lots of water on the fire to drown ALL the embers (not just the red ones). Stir the entire fire area with the shovel to mix the water and ash. Scrape any remaining logs and sticks to remove any embers. Repeat the pouring water and stirring several times until all hissing sounds stop. (Note—do not bury the fire, as this can keep hot coals smoldering for several days!)
- Test to be sure the fire is out by touching the back of your hand to the ash pile. If you feel ANY heat, it is not entirely out, and you need to repeat the water-stirring routine some more. Do not leave a campfire that is hot or warm to the touch!
How do you know if the campfire is all the way out? If it is COLD, DEAD, OUT.
There are some great alternatives to campfires!
There are options ranging from portable propane fire pits to flameless campfires using solar lanterns, chemical light sticks, or battery-operated light strings.
Peter Brooks says
Hello, We are full timers and spend most of our time in RV parks. I am always amazed at people who build a fire too close to their propane tanks. I believe 35 ft is recommended minimum distance. Usual excuse for this and other questionable behavior is “I never had any problem before!”
FYI Propane tanks vent to atmosphere. Propane is extremely flammable! One small spark is all it takes.
Barry Thomas says
I didn’t know propane tanks vented except when being filled. If that is the case how come they don’t just drain out? Where is this vent ?
Barry, There is a vent in the regulator, that will release excess pressure caused by temperature changes. Plus there can be leaks from hose damage or deterioration, loose or corroded connections, leaking valves, etc. That’s why a propane sensor/alarm is required.
On a different issue, it is my understanding in Oregon the campfire must not be left unattended and the fine would go to everyone in the campground around it, not just the wood burner person. Also at the end of the evening the campfire must be doused with water to insure that no underground buring continues. If someone knows different please respond, if this is correct, camp fire makers beware in Oregon of the rules..
There are these things called hose leaks in the lines that develop with age, included the filling line to the belly tanks for propane. Had to replace a leaker, found by the propane station and refused to fill, thank goodness, on a 37 foot 1999 Holiday Rambler. This was when it was 15 years old. Your choice, your life.
I was group camping and there was a communal fire. The fire was covered at the end of the evening and it rained most of the night. The next morning someone threw a paper plate onto the wet ashes. Within 15 minutes, the plate burst into flame.
You have to wet and STIR, wet and STIR,… !