How To Build A Campfire Safely

Rilor Staff
Update: November 1, 2021
Table of Contents

Learning how to build a campfire safely is essential. Hikers, campers, and backpackers have to understand that you simply don't build a campfire whimsically. Always keep in mind that the Leave No Trace principle indicates that these fires should be built as safely and traceless as possible. 

Here are some of the things that you need to do to build a campfire and the necessary precautions to prevent accidents and unwarranted damages to the environment. 

Where To Build A Campfire

As I've mentioned, you can't just build campfires in any area that you want. Aside from being unethical, doing so can pose dangers to the wildlife around you. 

In Established Campsites

If you are in an established campground, things should be easier. There are designated areas where you can build a fire. Fireplaces, fire rings, and grills are some of the ideal spots where you can create a fire for you and your crowd to enjoy. 

A fire ring, for instance, effectively reduces the impact of fire on the environment. It also prevents it from spreading. 

But of course, always remember to ask the administrators of the campground if building a fire is allowed. There are particular seasons (such as the summer) where these campfires are downright prohibited--even in established campsites. 

When it comes to campgrounds that aren't that developed, you still need to get in contact with the respective agencies that manage them--such as the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service. They will allow fires, but you need to secure a permit first. 

Of course, being prudent is essential here. If you see that the area has a lot of branches and bushes, you should contain your campfire. Alternatively, you simply have to abort the idea. Furthermore, embers can easily cause wildfires, especially when there's a dry spell. 

In Backcountry And Non-Established Campgrounds

Most of the time, fires are permitted in backcountry regions. But then again, it is not permissible for you to be careless in building one. If there is a fire ring available, build your campfire there. Don't create a new one unless there's an emergency. You can also detach or move the fire ring if the circumstance allows it. 

Of course, don't forget to clean the fire ring after using it. Be courteous to other users. 

When building a campfire, it is essential that you clear all combustible materials from the fire pit. In an ideal setting, your campfire's base should be gravel, sand, or soil that you can find along streambeds. Always remember that extreme heat can ruin fertile soil. Hence, you need to choose an area where you can minimize this type of damage. 

If there's no fire ring present, you might want to build a mound fire. Create a circular platform and fill it with mineral soil (up to five to seven inches in height). Use this platform as the base for the campfire. If you can, build the mound on top of a flat rock so that it won't get in contact with the soil.

What To Use In Building A Campfire

Essentially, you cannot build a campfire without the necessary flammable materials. For starters, these are the things that can help you achieve this:

  • Firewood - A firewood will help you prolong the life of a campfire. If you want it to run overnight, you should gather as much firewood as necessary. 
  • Kindling wood - These are small pieces of sticks that can hasten the building for fire. 
  • Tinder - Your fire begins with dry leaves and twigs lying around your area. 

In Established Campsites

If you are in a campground, you should only utilize the firewood offered by the site. There are stores that sell firewood; hence, you should buy them instead of acquiring the wood manually. 

Of course, it is a wrong idea to bring your own firewood--although it sounds logical and practical. In fact, campgrounds will prohibit anyone from bringing their own firewood. The reason for this is quite simple. They don't want people to bring unsuspecting insects along with the firewood. These foreign insects can affect the wildlife in the area. 

In Backcountry And Non-Established Campgrounds

As long as you are in the backcountry, you have no other choice but to get these pieces of firewood by yourself. However, it is not an excuse for you to cut trees and split branches from both living and dead trees. Doing this is not ethical and can pose harm to the environment. Many wildlife are using these dead branches for their food and survival. 

Hence, you have no other option but to get those pieces of wood that have been downed already. Furthermore, you should get those that aren't bigger than your wrist. 

Surely enough, you would think that these large pieces of wood are better for sustaining your campfire. It might be the case, but you should always remember the environmental damage that they could cause. After all, these burly chunks don't burn completely. Hence, they don't turn into ash and will just become unwanted residues. 

Using them simply violates the essence of the Leave No Trace principles. 

How To Build A Campfire Safely And Properly?

There are multiple ways on how to build a campfire.  

The most common one is the cone. You can do this by creating a cone made from various kindling materials and tinder that are placed in the middle of the fire ring. Once they are already burning, you can add your firewood already.  

You can also try the log cabin campfire. Here, you need to place two pieces of firewood in a parallel position. There should be sufficient space between them, as they will serve as the base of your campfire. 

Next, pile two slightly smaller pieces of wood on top of the base. But this time, they should be placed perpendicular to the base, making a square shape. Inside the square, put lots of tinder. You can still add more firewood, but they should be smaller than the ones they are sitting upon. The top layer should be a pile of tinder and kindling materials so that fire can be created easily. 

Igniting The Campfire

In this process, you would need a lighter or match to light up your campfire. Make sure that the one you brought can quickly ignite. Also, it is essential that you have waterproof fire starters or matches so that they can operate in any condition. 

After the tinder ignites, blow the base gently to have sufficient oxygen to keep the fire running. Once there's a fire already, place embers in the center so that they can burn the firewood. Maintain the flame so that the wood would become ashes. In this way, cleaning them would be a lot easier. 

Extinguishing And Cleaning The Campfires

For some people, making a campfire is easy. But it is a different story when it comes to cleaning its remnants. As much as possible, you wouldn't want your campfire to leave a mess and cause potential wildfires. 

Fire doesn't die down easily, especially if the temperature is ideal for keeping them burning. Hence, you should follow the standard procedures in extinguishing them. In most cases, it can be done by pouring water into the fire and stirring its ashes repeatedly. Before you leave your campsite, the ashes should be cool already. Make sure that all embers are extinguished before you head off. 

But how about using sand or soil in extinguishing a campfire? Isn't it more efficient than pouring water?

Well, that's not really the case. In fact, doing this method is quite troublesome. When you dump the sand on the campfire, you are insulating live coils. They can still ignite, which can result in unwanted wildfires. 

It is also necessary that you clean your campfire before departing. And clean-ups are a lot easier if you don't burn unnecessary materials in the fire--such as plastics. If you burn them, make sure that you still collect their residues and put them in a trash bag. Carry them on your way home. 

If there are charcoal remaining, take them, too. After that, find a clear area where you can crush them so that they can become dust. 

Additional Safety Tips In Building A Campfire

  • Be attentive to the wind - A strong gust of wind can spread the fire around your area. To prevent this from happening, you should establish your campfire in areas clear of flammable materials--including your tent and clothes! The clearance should be around 15 feet. 
  • Guard your kids and pets - Fire can cause injuries, especially to your children and pets. You should teach them not to get close to the fire. Furthermore, you should always be under supervision so that no accidents can take place. 
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