Nothing is more peaceful or relaxing than sitting around a warm crackling campfire while gazing up at a star-dusted night sky. Probably why one of my favorite pastimes while camping is roasting marshmallows, especially when we're making smores that melt in your mouth! I also get a big kick out of watching other's trying to keep their marshmallows from melting and falling into the fire or bursting into a flaming mass of sticky goo! Since camping season is upon us, I thought I would post a few basic safety tips we try to follow when we are camping, especially in the backcountry:
1. We always make sure we call the local forest ranger station to find out about Fire restrictions in the area where we will be camping. Some areas may even require permits.
2. We NEVER start a campfire on a windy or RED FLAG day, as live embers can easily travel up to a mile away, and ignite wildfires some distance from your camp.
3. We NEVER leave the campfire unattended, and never leave children alone by a campfire - Kids will be kids and even with innocent horseplay, accidents can happen. Always designate someone (Adult) who is responsible for tending to the fire, kind of like a designated driver. Don’t hesitate to give them a big title like “Lord of the Flames” or something, to make them feel kinda important.
3. Before we even consider building a campfire, we make sure that we have brought along the following:
A Fire Extinguisher, At least 15 gallons of water, a shovel, rake and a bucket. If you are camping in an developed campground with water, it doesn’t hurt to pack a lightweight expandable garden hose.
4. If campfires are allowed, we always use an existing campfire ring when possible. If you have to construct your own, it is important that you pick a SAFE place for digging your fire pit. NEVER dig a fire pit under low hanging branches that can easily catch fire. Always try to pick a large clearing devoid of trees or bushes.
5. Once we have selected our spot, we use a rake or hand spade to clear the area of combustible material (pine needles, dry leaves, or twigs), leaving just a layer of dirt. Save the debris you have raked up in a pile far away from your campfire ring, as they will make good starter material for future campfires. I try to clear an area that is at least 20 feet in diameter. That way if live embers pop out of the fire, as they always do, nothing will catch on fire.
6. Once you have dug your fire pit in the center of a 20 foot circular area of cleared dirt, build a ring of stones around the pit, and remember to try to keep your campfires small. Large bonfires are another big NO NO, as they can easily get out of hand.
7. When building your campfire, work from little to big. Start with dried pine needles, grasses, and very small twigs. Pine needles make excellent tinder because of their high oil content. I have also heard that oily potato chips (Doritos) can be used for tender if no pine needles are available. Once you have a small fire started, You can then add kindling and larger pieces of wood.
8. Before you leave a campfire for ANY REASON, make sure that it is totally extinguished!! Pour ample amounts of water on the fire, stir the ashes, and pour even more water on it, until it is cool enough to touch. With a shovel cover the pit with dirt. This will substantially decrease the amount of oxygen available to embers that can easily reignite if it starts to get windy. Hope this helps!!