How to Build a Safe & Enjoyable Campfire
Taking the family on an old-fashioned camping trip is an excellent way to create wonderful life-long vacation memories without breaking the family budget. In fact, because so many people are struggling with financial problems in today’s economic climate, the primitive family tent camping trip is quickly becoming the most popular vacation choice this year.
Many families are opting to take a tent camping trip to nearby state parks because it is so much less expensive to do than getting a hotel room. And there is plenty of state park campground near enough to larger city areas and attractions that an entire family can have a full week’s worth of wonderful vacation time while hardly spending any money.
One of the favorite parts of everyone’s family camping trip though is almost always sitting around the campfire at night. Everyone loves to sit around and talk, tell each other stories, roast hot dogs, and marshmallows. Something about that campfire fills a deep need in all of us that cannot be forgotten.
If you plan to take your family on a camping trip this year and you expect to have that wonderful memory of sitting around the campfire, you’ll need to know how to create and maintain your campfire safely – for your family and loved ones as well as the wilderness areas you’ll be camping in.
Building and enjoying a campfire safely is not difficult, but you’ll want to follow all the steps appropriately. Start with a clear, open spot that has no trees or vegetation overhanging above. Then follow these steps:
- Clear an area for your campfire. This is particularly important if you are camping in a remote area that has never had a campfire built there before. It’s critical to be sure you clear a very wide space for your campfire and make sure it is not too close to any trees, bushes, weeds, or other flammable vegetation.
- When clearing a new campfire spot you’ll want to literally scrape away anything that can catch fire easily. This includes weeds, grass, sticks, and bark. The best campfire clearing is simple dirt.
- If there is a ready-made fire pit where you’re camping, then you’ll just need to clear out any debris such as fallen leaves and pine needles and make sure the area just outside the fire pit is cleared of flammable items too.
- If there is no one there yet, create a circle of rocks. This will be your fire pit or ring which will help contain the campfire safely. This ring should be placed in the center of your cleared area so that any stray sparks will fall on plain dirt.
- This ring of stones will also be useful when you go to sleep at night too. If it gets cold in your chosen camping spot, you can put one of the warm stones into the bottom of your sleeping bag.
- This is an optional step, but it’s particularly recommended when you’re camping in dry areas which can be more prone to wildfires: Dig a foot or two in the center of the stone circle you created, so you’ll have more of a pit in the ground. This helps contain your campfire, plus it can be a good way to easily keep the fire going long into the night since a good bed of hot coals can build up in the dug pit area.
- Now that you have a safe place to build your campfire, start gathering your wood. Don’t cut branches off of trees or chop anything down though, you want to gather fallen wood only. There are three types of firewood you’ll need to make the best campfire.
Kindling is the primary thing needed to get the campfire started because it’s very small dry bits and pieces of highly flammable materials. Paper is excellent to use as kindling but the camping area is probably filled with plenty of other things to use too, such as dried and dead weeds, pine needles, bits of bark, and tiny branches or twigs.
Gather a lot of kindling because it burns very quickly so you’ll need enough to fully get your campfire going.
The second type of wood you’ll need to gather is general or medium-sized pieces. These are usually small fallen branches and larger chunks of bark.
The last type of wood to gather up is your largest piece. Logs are preferred but in remote camping areas, there aren’t usually any that can fit into a campfire pit. You’ll probably find fat dead tree branches though, and these work well.
Always try to use only those pieces of wood which can actually fit fully into your fire ring though. Break longer pieces up to make them fit, so you don’t have to worry about your campfire escaping the safety area you’ve created for it.
- This is the most important step to take when you have an outdoor campfire: Get buckets of water. Sit several buckets, pans, or containers of water around the perimeter of your cleared campfire area just in case there’s an emergency. If anything happens that causes your campfire to become dangerous, you’ll be immediately able to douse it with lots of water quickly.
Now that you know the primary steps to take for building a very safe campfire your family can enjoy and remember for the rest of their lives, don’t forget other standard and basic safety steps. If you have small children on the camping trip, be sure to keep them from getting to close to the fire. Do the same with small animals, particularly if your pets have never been outside in remote, wild areas before.
Pay attention to the fire itself too. Some types of wood tend to crackle, spit and pop more so than others and this could cause them to throw embers outside of your fire ring. Be ready to douse any stray bits with water, and be sure the flames have died down completely before going to sleep.
Remember too that at the end of your camping trip, you need to be sure there are no hot coals or fire of any kind left in your campfire ring. Fully flood the campfire area with water to put everything out. Repeat the dousing with water until there are no hissing sounds, and you can use your bare hands to move around the wet ashes. Being able to touch anything in the campfire pit with your hands is a sure sign that you’ve put it out completely, and there are no further fire hazards once you leave.