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This summer, it seems like the entire west is on fire. High temperatures and dry conditions have left many areas especially susceptible to wildfires as firefighters battle blazes in virtually every state west of the Rockies. But every state is at risk of forest fires. And with nine out of every 10 wildfires caused by humans, we figured it was a good time to brush up on how to build and maintain the perfect campfire.
Before You Go
- DO Check local laws and regulations. Many municipalities have laws governing burning of various sorts including time of day, time of year, and what substances can be burned.
- DO Check the weather. It is never a good idea to engage in any type of burning if there are high winds. Wind can act as both an accelerant and can spread the fire. In addition, check your state’s most current fire danger rating system, which will explain any areas’ susceptibility to fires and any extra precautions that may be necessary. The Wildland Fire Assessment System provides a frequently updated map that shows the current fire danger rating for each state.
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Selecting Your Campfire Spot
- DON’T build a campfire if the campground, area or event rules prohibit them. Sometimes digging of pits may be prohibited due to archaeological or other concerns.
- DON’T build a campfire in hazardous, dry conditions.
- DO find out if the campground has an existing fire ring or fire pit. If there is not an existing fire pit, and pits are allowed, choose a site at least 15 feet from tent walls, shrubs, trees or other flammable objects. Beware of low-hanging branches.
- Do Choose an open, level location away from heavy fuels such as logs, brush or decaying leaves.
- DO Take wind, and its direction, into account when choosing the site. Choose a spot that’s protected from gusts.
Prepping Your Pit
- DO feel free to build your own pit if one doesn’t already exist as long as you’re following all of the other rules listed here.
- DO clear a 10-foot-diameter area around the site. Remove any grass, twigs, leaves and firewood. Dig a pit in the dirt, about a foot deep then circle the pit with rocks.
How to Build Your Campfire
- DON’T build a fire without a source of water, a bucket or shovel nearby at all times.
- DON’T cut whole trees or branches, dead or alive. Live materials won’t burn, and you’ll be damaging the forest. And dead standing trees often are homes for birds and other wildlife. Gather tinder (small twigs and dry leaves, grass and needles), kindling (sticks smaller than 1″ around), and fuel (larger pieces of wood) and keep anything you’re not using stacked upwind, away from the fire.
- DO add kindling and fuel once the fire is lit itto keep the fire going.
- DO keep the fire small and under control.
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Maintaining & Extinguishing Your Campfire.
- DON’T burn dangerous things like aerosol cans, pressurized containers, glass or aluminum cans. They could explode, shatter and/or create harmful fumes or dust.
- DON’T burn anything unusual or combustible. It is common for people to throw garbage or other things into campfires, but these foreign materials can occasionally react violently to fires and lead to a quickly spreading fire.
- DON’T leave children or pets unsupervised near the fire.
- DON’T leave your campfire unattended.
- DO fully extinguish your campfire. Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible. Then pour lots of water on the fire, making sure to drown all the embers, not just the red ones. Pour until hissing sound stops. If you don’t have water, stir dirt or sand into the embers with a shovel to bury the fire. With your shovel, scrape any remaining sticks and logs to remove any embers. Make sure that no embers are exposed and still smoldering. Continue adding water, dirt or sand and stirring with a shovel until all material is cool.
- DO remember: If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
Best campfires for cooking:
- Teepee: Lay the kindling over the tinder like you’re building a tent.
- Lean-to: Drive a long piece of kindling into the ground at an angle over the tinder. Lean smaller pieces of kindling against the longer piece.
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Best for long-lasting campfires:
- Cross: Crisscross the kindling over the tinder.
- Log Cabin: Surround your pile of tinder with kindling, stacking pieces at right angles. Top the “cabin” with the smallest kindling.