One thing that pretty much all camping trips have in common, regardless of whether you’re pitching your tent in canyon country or taking the RV to Yellowstone, is that you’ll no doubt be gathering around the fire when the sun goes down.
A fire creates a nice, warm glow for the night, keeps the bugs and wild animals away with its smoke, and provides a means to cook delicious food. In fact, some of the best memories of camping trips involve sitting around a campfire and talking late into the night. Yet, campers who fail to take the precautions to have a safe campfire put themselves, wildlife, and forests in danger. Follow our five fire safety tips the next time you set out on an adventure so that you and your fellow campers can enjoy your favorite camping spots for years to come.
Make an Appropriate Fire Pit
Even though it may seem a bit time-consuming (especially if you’re hungry after a long hike to your camping site), it’s imperative that you make an appropriate fire pit before starting your campfire. First, choose a good location for your fire pit by making sure it’s away from low-hanging branches, dry grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation that could burn. It’s also important to build your fire a good distance from your tent. If possible, choose an area that is protected from wind that could blow coals or sparks out of the pit.
Next, dig in the designated area until you have a hole approximately one foot deep. Circle your pit with rocks or make sure it is surrounded by a metal fire ring. Then, clear an area approximately 5-10 feet around the pit down to the soil; make sure that the surrounding area is free of leaves, sticks, pine needles, and other flammable debris. It’s ideal to build a fire pit on gravel, sand, or bare soil.
Supervise Young Children
If you are camping with children, never leave them or the campfire unattended. Unfortunately, children sometimes view a fire pit as a sandbox, so you should teach them to view the perimeter of rocks as a boundary that they should not cross. You also should tell them to assume that fire pits are always hot – even when the fire isn’t visibly burning – because there could be coals or embers at the bottom of the pit. Think of it like a swimming pool; you’d never leave your child unsupervised around one, and you should use the same level of caution around a campfire.
Keep Water or Sand Nearby
You never know when a wind gust or rogue spark could cause your fire to grow larger than you anticipate or cause a fire to start elsewhere in your campsite. That’s why it’s a good rule of thumb to have water or sand nearby to help you reduce the flames or put out a fire completely if you need to do so. Responsible campers are prepared to control the fire or put it out at a moment’s notice.
Use Common Sense
In your rush to set up camp, get a fire going, and relax for the evening, you may not think about where you put flammable items, fuel, or gas canisters and propane cylinders. That’s why you should have a designated area for these items away from the fire at each of your campsites. Be sure to keep the gas canisters upright and in a well-ventilated area. It’s also important that you avoid spilling fuel or using fuel to start your campfire. You also should avoid burning items in your fire that are harmful or dangerous such as aerosol cans, pressurized containers, glass, or aluminum cans.
Completely Extinguish Your Fire
According to National Geographic, Cal Fire, California’s firefighting agency, attributes 95% of the wildfires in the southern part of the state to human causes. That’s why all campers should know exactly how to extinguish their campfires completely.
The first step to extinguishing a campfire is to drown it with water. Next, mix soil with the ashes and embers and scrape the remaining sticks and logs to ensure they are free of hot embers. Stir embers to make sure everything remaining in the fire pit is wet. When you are ready to leave your campsite, carefully feel the remnants of your fire and the rocks surrounding it to be sure they are cool to the touch. Add a little more water, check your campsite for embers and sparks, and leave only when all parts of the fire pit are cool to the touch.
Everyone can enjoy the great outdoors more when campers follow fire safety tips like making an appropriate fire pit, supervising young children, keeping water or sand handy, using common sense, and completely extinguishing the fire before leaving camp.
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