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  • Writer's pictureJohanna Flashman

8 Fire Safety Tips for a Safe Campfire

Wildfire season has been a household term among folks in the Western US for a long time, but nowadays with hotter and drier conditions due to climate change, that season has become longer and more dangerous. In these conditions, fires can start in the blink of an eye and spread like, well, wildfire.

Camping in the wilderness, REI
Photo courtesy of Marina Neal

However, who doesn’t like to experience the crackle and pop of a safe campfire and roast a few marshmallows while camping? To help you do just that on your next camping trip, we’ve put together a list of fire safety tips to ensure your campfire and campsite stay fire-safe.

Why Is Campfire Safety Important?

Campfire snacks
Photo courtesy of Marina Neal

According to the U.S. Forest Service Research Data Archive and National Park Service, humans caused almost 85% of wildland fires in the US from 2000 to 2017. This is from unattended campfires, burning debris, equipment malfunctions, cigarettes, and acts of arson. That’s a whole lot of potentially preventable wildfires.

Along with the fact that out-of-control fires are downright dangerous and will easily destroy you and your stuff, you don’t want to be that guy who starts a record-breaking wildfire that burns hundreds of thousands or even millions of acres of land. And fire safety is in place for exactly that reason — to avoid causing those fires.

Luckily, many of the tips are pretty intuitive and easy to follow.

8 Fire Safety Tips for Your Campfire and Beyond

These aren’t all the fire safety tips out there, but you definitely want to keep these in mind before you get that first spark going.

1. Follow Local Guidelines

We like a good campfire as much as the next person, but here’s the thing — if there’s a “no burn” rule up where you’re camping or your campsite is specifically saying no campfires at the moment, we have to listen. There’s probably a good reason for it.

Depending on the specific site or land, they may also have rules around scavenging firewood, campfire permits, or designated fire pits.

2. Assess Current Fire Danger Levels and Wind Conditions

High winds and the overall fire danger of the area will make having a campfire riskier. Wind can blow sparks and embers FAR and start a new fire somewhere else so you’ll want to keep anything flammable at least 15 to 20 feet away from the fire (this includes your tent).

3. Keep Your Fire Manageable

Yes, big bonfires are fun, but they can easily get out of control and spread to where you don’t want them. With a campfire in a raised fire pit, try to keep the flames below the rim of the ring. Even if you can’t do that all the time, always keep the fire small enough that you could put it out with the water you have available.

Two girls backpacking
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

4. Have Water Available

Speaking of which… you should have that water available! Along with firewood, a bucket of water should be essential for having a campfire. This is just in case your fire does get out of hand or some sparks jump the ring.

5. Use Local Firewood

This one is a little less obvious. Firewood can come with diseases or insects you’d never know about. If you use local firewood, the trees around you will probably be used to whatever might be in the wood. However, if you bring wood from a 5 hour drive away because you think it will be cheaper, you might unknowingly introduce harmful insects or diseases to the environment.

Instead, opt for firewood from the camp shop or a convenient store near the campsite.

Yosemite camping
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

6. Never Leave a Fire Unattended

Always have at least one person watching the fire. Fires can have a life of their own and move quickly. If you’re not paying attention, they can become a real problem real quick. If someone can’t be there to watch the fire, fully extinguish it (we’ll get to that next) and know you can start it back up later.

7. Always Fully Extinguish Your Fire

To fully extinguish your campfire at the end of the night, give it a healthy dousing of water. Pour water on the fire until it stops sizzling and you don’t see anymore embers. Then give it a mix with a poker, shovel, or stick, and pour more water on it.

The fire should be cold enough to touch before you head to bed or leave the campsite.

8. Never Leave Glass or Mirrors in the Sun Near Flammable Material

This one has more to do with general fire safety around the campsite than specifically campfires, but it’s equally important. Remember that science experiment you did as a kid with the sun and a magnifying glass burning a piece of paper?

Well, on a particularly hot and sunny day the same thing can happen with glass or mirrors. That means any mirrors, glass jars, or glasses should always stay safely tucked away from the sun and away from any flammable material. I’ve legitimately seen a tent go up in flames in less than a minute because of a mason jar water bottle placed outside the tent.

Car camping in La Plata Mountains
Photo courtesy of Marina Neal

Enjoy Your Camping Trip!

Feeling suitably prepared to head into the woods and enjoy some time around the campfire? Be sure to check out some of our favorite California campsites or get tips to find a local free campsite. If you need some last-minute gear or still need the essentials for your camping trip, be sure to check out Requipper’s used camping gear to get quality discounted gear.

About the Author

Johanna Flashman is a freelance journalist, copywriter, and SEO specialist focusing on all things outdoor adventure, travel, social justice, and environment. She runs an inclusive online information hub for women freelancers in the outdoor industry called The Freelance Outdoorswoman.

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