Safely Using Campfires

 By: Larry West
Campfires are a wonderful thing and they also can be the most hazardous thing around. A simple campfire can turn into the worst nightmare if not handled properly. Building a campfire may not be as easy as it seems. It's not pitching in some wood light it and you have a fire. The best campfire comes from dried seasoned wood. Using green wood will cause your fire to smoke and create unnecessary pollution. Choose the place for your fire carefully, try and use a spot other fires have been. If no fire has been in the vicinity, try and find a spot that contains mineral soil or use rocks to build your fire on.

Most of todays' campgrounds provide fire rings for cooking and heat. If there are no fire rings, pay attention to the soil, a fire will burn through the organic soil quickly and cannot be fully extinguished easily. Stay at least eight to ten feet from brush or other combustibles with no tree branches hanging over your fire. Use rocks to create a circle or u shaped fire ring placing the tallest rock at the back of your pit, this will help the smoke go up and away. Always have your campfire up wind from any flammable objects such as your tent and other camping gear. Keep extra firewood well away from the fire and keep a bucket of water or sand close by in case the fire gets out of hand. Never build a blazing fire, let the fire develop slowly. Never leave a fire unattended, it only takes a few seconds for a fire to develop into something uncontrollable.

If you are going to use your campfire to cook with it needs to burn clean and hot. Check to see if the campground provides firewood, if not you will have to find another resource for your wood. I prefer dried oak wood if I am going to use my fire for cooking. Also, any type of wind can be hazardous, wind can blow sparks that can create wild fires as well as cool your coals quicker reducing your cooking time. With high winds, a fire is out of the question.

To start your fire put some small crumbled newspaper down first, I like pine combs they burn longer and hotter. On top of the paper place some kindling or small splinters of dried wood. When you have a small fire going, place your wood on top in a teepee style. Once you have an abundance of coals spread them out, you can put them in in different levels so as to have different temperatures for cooking. Set your cooking-grate across the rocks to place your food on.

When extinguishing your fire use water to drown out the fire, then stir the coals with a shovel to assure there are no hot coals left. Use your shovel to dispose of all your coals properly if not using a fire ring provided by the campground. Remember most campers now abide by the leave no trace ethic.
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