Imagine you and your family are enjoying that long-awaited camping trip in the mountains. The tents are up, the car is unpacked, and your guitar is propped up against the nearby tree ready to play campfire songs. But first, you have to build the campfire. The evening is expected to be clear and chilly, with a sky illuminated by a bright, full moon and millions of stars. Sounds peaceful and majestic, right? But did you know, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, in 2017 alone, 64,546 human-caused wildfires burned close to five million acres. Who remembers Smokey the Bear? Maybe it’s time for a quick refresher on campfire safety from the expert himself.
Important factors to consider when building a campfire include picking a safe campfire spot, steps to prepare the pit, how to properly build and maintain the fire, and how to extinguish the fire when it’s time to leave.
According to Smokey’s website, here are some safety tips to follow:
- Avoid building a campfire in hazardous or dry conditions and make sure the pit is protected against wind gust exposure.
- Check if the campground has an existing fire ring or fire pit at your site. If not, choose a fire pit site that is at least 15 feet from tent walls, shrubs, trees, or other flammable objects. Choose an open area with level ground.
- Clear an area around the site that is 10 feet in diameter. Dig a hole that is one foot deep and then surround the pit with rocks.
- To build the fire, collect wood from around your campsite. You’ll need tinder (small twigs, dry leaves, grass, and needles), kindling (sticks smaller than 1″ around), and fuel (larger pieces of wood). Be sure you store the wood away from the fire. Place some of the tinder in the center of the pit. Carefully ignite and add more tinder as the fire develops. Blow lightly at the base of the fire to provide the extra oxygen needed for the fire to grow. Next, add your kindling and larger firewood to build up the fire. Remember to keep the fire small and under control.
- Extinguishing your fire afterward is just as important as the steps to prepare and build the fire. First, allow the wood to completely burn to ash. Drown all embers (not just the red ones) with water. The key is to pour until the hissing sound stops. If you don’t have a water source, you can stir dirt or sand into the embers to bury the fire. With your shovel, scrape any remaining sticks and logs to remove any remaining embers. Make sure you continue this process until all material is cooled down.
Please follow these important safety steps while also not forgetting to use common sense. A campfire not safely handled can mean death and destruction to wildlife, trees, plants, and even more devastating, to human life. Never forget Smokey Bear’s famous slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
SmokeyBear.com. “Campfire Safety.”
National Interagency Fire Center. “Lightning Fires and Lightning Acres by Geographic Area.”
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