Tips on How to Make a Campfire as Safe as Possible
Campfires are inherently dangerous, no matter what the conditions are at the time you are building one. Applying good fire safety practices goes a long way with preventing accidental injury as well as helping to protect the environment. Let's take a look at a few basic guidelines to keep in mind the next time you're building a fire in the wilderness.
Beware of Wind
Wind should be the first concern that anyone has when building and maintaining a fire. Not only can embers be carried long distances and ignite forest debris or brush, but it can also propel smoke and sparks toward your tents, hammocks and gear. Windy conditions also make it more likely that embers can wind up on people's clothing or hair as well. As a rule, you should avoid building a fire in windy conditions, and if you do, it's important to shield it as much as possible. There are plenty of different ways to go about this, but the important thing is to make a fire that is low to the ground and smolders more than emitting large flames.
Keep a Safe Distance
It's important to build your fire at least 5-10 feet away from any flammable material, including your gear and supplies. You want to make sure that the area is clear from dried ground debris and clutter and that you don't put items that you want to dry with the heat from the fire too close to the flames. You also want to make sure that your tent or hammock is far enough from the fire where the heat or embers are unlikely to come into contact with the material and cause it to melt or ignite.
Try not to Leave a Fire Unattended
Fires need to be monitored and managed as they burn, and leaving them unattended is just asking for trouble. Always have someone keep an eye on the fire if people start to scatter after dinner or to get ready for bed. If you plan on using the heat from a fire to provide warmth as you fall asleep, wait until the fire has consumed most of the wood and all that is left is a very small flame along with burning embers.
Extinguishing the Fire
While a lot of people use water to put out a fire, a more efficient method is to cover it with dirt or sand. This will starve it of oxygen and cause it to snuff itself out. Water is just as effective, but you will most likely need a lot of it, and transporting water from the source to the fire may prove to be more work than its worth. Try to keep a bucket or pile of sand and dirt near the fire in case you need to extinguish it in an emergency as well.
Above all else, never leave the site unattended until you know for sure that the fire has been completely extinguished. Spread out any remaining embers or hotspots, douse with more dirt, sand or drench in water until there is no more flame, embers or smoke present.
Don't forget that a campfire can be dangerous even when it's not fire season. It's up to all of us to be responsible, vigilant and respect the destructive capabilities of even the smallest campfires. Remember that you are ultimately the last line of defense with respect to keeping a fire safely contained, and nothing is more important than making sure that any fire is properly managed from start to finish.