Campfires are synonymous with summer. From camping and cooking over an open flame, to sharing mountain pies and s’mores in your backyard, people love to spend time talking and eating around the fire. But, campfires are only fun when they’re safe. Even if you’ve been enjoying campfires for years, there are a few tips to remember that will make you safer this summer.

1. Make Your Fire Pit as Safe as Possible

Rule one of a safe campfire is preparing the area in which you burn. If you are camping, you most likely will be in a location that has an existing fire pit. But, you may need to do some work to prepare the fire pit to safely contain your campfire, especially if you are camping in an area that is used frequently. 

Begin by removing all debris from the perimeter of the pit. Clear garbage, grass, leaves, and sticks from the area around the fire pit until you have a 5-foot perimeter of soil around the campfire space. Next, check to see if there is a metal fire pit ring. If there is, make sure that it does not have any holes in it. If there is no metal ring, or if it is in poor condition, surround the pit with rocks to help contain the fire.

After you prepare the fire pit, look around and up. If there are any flammable items within 15 feet of the campfire, remove them. Flammable items may be organic items such as decaying leaves or small sticks, or they may be items you brought along such as pressurized containers, aerosol cans, or camping grill gas canisters. If there are any low-hanging branches above the fire, cut them.

2. Start Your Fire Safely

One of the most dangerous aspects of campfires is the way in which people start them. While it may be tempting to use a flammable liquid to get your fire going more quickly, avoid the urge to do so. Gasoline, lighter fluid, diesel fuel, and other flammable liquids should never be used to start a campfire. Using flammable liquid can lead to potentially life-threatening accidents and injuries or a larger-than-intended campfire that quickly can burn out of control. 

It’s much safer if you start a campfire using proper methods. First, gather some tinder such as wood shavings, wadded paper, or commercial fire sticks or fire starters. You’ll also need some kindling, firewood, and a match or lighter. You should come prepared with your kindling and firewood rather than planning to take them from the surrounding area. Why? Freshly-cut branches will be too wet to burn, plus you could harm the surrounding vegetation. You’ll need twigs or small branches between 1/8 and 1/2 inch in diameter and logs between one and five inches in diameter.

To start your fire safely, place your tinder in the middle of your prepared pit and arrange your kindling in a teepee shape. One tip is to lay a bed of tinder approximately one foot in diameter because it burns very quickly. Then, build a larger teepee of firewood over the kindling so the flames can begin at the tinder and spread through the kindling and into the larger firewood. 

3. Use Safe Campfire Cooking Methods

Many people use campfires for cooking. Safety should be paramount whether you’re camping in the great outdoors or cooking hotdogs on sticks in your backyard. Only use dry wood for your cooking campfire and make sure that nobody threw any garbage, plastic, or other non-organic materials into the fire before you begin to cook. If you are using a grill, place it on the rocks surrounding your fire pit or on wet green logs. Have a small spray bottle of water nearby in case any drippings from your food cause the fire to grow larger than you wanted it to. 

Should you have a rainy night and need to use a camping grill to cook rather than a campfire, be sure to use safe cooking methods with this tool as well. Never cook inside your tent and always change your gas canisters outside your tent to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, use torches for extra light rather than holding candles or lighters while cooking.

If you follow a few simple campfire safety tips, you can kick back, relax, and enjoy your adventure. Be sure to prepare your fire pit, start your fire safely, and use safe cooking methods. 

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