Campfire Safety

Spark fun and stay safe with these campfire tips

For generations, groups have gathered around campfires for the camaraderie and to watch the flames dance and jump around the logs. There’s just something about the mystery of fire that delights the senses of both old and young. It’s the perfect place for campers to gather as summer winds to an end and temperatures turn a bit cooler at night.

What can camps do to ensure a safe fire area?

Smokey the Bear wasn’t kidding when he said that “only you can prevent forest fires.” In 2015 alone, 58,916 human-caused wildfires burned over 2 million acres.

It’s recommended that before a campfire, adults in charge should:

  1. Check the conditions. Plan ahead and check the forecast and wind conditions. Contact local authorities to see if any permits are required or if any burn bans are in place, and take extra care if you are in a drought-prone region.
  2. Clear the fire area. All dry grass, low-hanging branches, brush and leaves should be removed. The fire should be on a level location away from the base of hills and at least 15 feet from any structures or woodpiles. Ensure there’s a safe walking distance around the fire area and there are no tripping hazards that may cause someone to fall while walking in the dark.
  3. Use a fire ring or pit. A 1-foot deep pit with stones circling the top provides a good containment option if a fire ring isn’t available.
  4. Never use accelerants. Start the fire only with paper, tinder, kindling and logs. Gasoline, kerosene and lighter fluid should never be used, especially on a burning fire.
  5. Check all clothing. Nylon fabrics are more prone to catching fire, so avoid having those exposed. Loose or baggy shirts or hair are also hazards.
  6. Be prepared for emergencies. Know how to contact local fire departments and keep shovels and a water source nearby to extinguish any flames.

How to maintain a safe fire during a burn

  1. Don’t leave a fire unattended. Just like with water watchers, there should always be someone watching the fire. Responsible for making sure the embers don’t jump to something flammable, the fire watcher also needs to make sure everyone nearby is being safe around the fire.
  2. Don’t let the fire grow too big. Larger fires are much harder to manage, as the risks of logs collapsing and embers jumping tend to rise.
  3. Establish a safe distance. Especially with small children, it’s helpful to have a “watch line” drawn around the firepit to keep a safe distance away. When roasting food, designate specific cookers and use long cooking sticks. A set of rules for around the fire is also helpful (for example; only adults adjust the fire or add logs, no running or horseplay).

Safely extinguishing a campfire once done

  1. Don’t use dirt to cover a fire. Embers can still flame under dirt. If possible, reducing the fire to ashes is the safest. In a camp environment, having one designated adult as the fire extinguisher will reduce risks of flame-ups.
  2. Drown the ashes with water. Make a mud pie out of the ashes and water 30 minutes before leaving the pit. Repeat the process and stir in all the sides of the fire too.
  3. Test the temperature. Ensure the fire is completely out by holding a hand over the ashes. Smokey the Bear says, “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”

Camps have an added level of responsibility to keep fires safe and reduce the risk of wildfires around their facilities. For the sake of those gathering around the fire as well as those living nearby, follow these important safety tips for an enjoyable night for everyone!

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P.O. Box 357 | 3000 Schuster Lane | Merrill, WI 54452-0357
Telephone (800) 554-2642 or (715) 536-5577

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