Fall Campfire Safety Tips and Information

Author: Jason W. Konvicka, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney

This fall, campers with varying degrees of experience will head out into parks and forests all over the country to experience the world around them. Camping trips expose campers to certain risks and dangers, with one of the biggest issues being campfire safety. As the weather grows colder, it is essential to know how to make a safe campfire and what to do once a campfire has been lit. Here are some information and tips on how to stay campfire safe.

Campfire Safety Tips and Information

Preparing to Build a Campfire:

  • It is important to know if any fire restrictions are in place before going camping. Campers should also check the weather forecasts and be aware of drought or other hazardous conditions in the area. Some campgrounds have rules prohibiting campfires, so campers need to be aware of this as well. [1]
  • Choosing the site of the campfire is an important first step for maintaining safety. When picking a site, it is never a good idea to start at the base of a hill, as fire can travel uphill quickly. A level spot away from brush or dry grass is the best place to begin. The spot should be about fifteen feet from tent walls or other flammable objects. [2]
  • The chosen site can also be modified to reduce risk of spreading the fire. Clearing the ground with a shovel can remove flammable debris, and digging a pit is a good way to keep the fire contained. A fire pit should be about six to twelve inches deep and two feet across. The excess dirt taken from the pit or rocks can be used to build up its edges. Some sites may already have fire pits ready to be used by campers. [3]
  • Once the pit has been prepared, the next step is to collect the wood for burning. There are three kinds that should be used: tinder (small twigs, dry leaves, or grass), kindling (sticks with a circumference smaller than one inch), and fuel (larger pieces of wood). Campers should always use dead, dry wood, and not take branches from living trees. [4]

Building the Campfire:

  • Once the wood has been gathered, it can be stacked in a number of ways. However, the tinder should always be underneath the larger pieces of wood. For campers attempting to use their fire to cook, the tipi (laying the kindling over the tinder like a tent) and the lean-to (leaning small pieces of kindling against a longer piece over the tinder) are effective. Campers that simply want a long-lasting fire can use the cross (crisscrossing the kindling over the tinder) or the log cabin (surrounding the tinder with kindling walls and roof) structures. [5]
  • Once the wood has been stacked, a camper can light the tinder. If a match is used, it should be discarded in the fire. As the fire grows, more tinder should be added. Blowing lightly on the base of the fire will help it to grow. Once the fire has started to burn steadily, the camper can add more kindling and firewood to keep it burning. [6]
  • Campers should keep their campfires small to ensure safety and reduce the risk of the fire spreading. Fires over three feet high are impractical in forests and can be very dangerous at a campsite. Fires should never be left unattended. [7]

Putting Out the Campfire:

  • Extinguishing the fire is a vital part of fire safety. When possible, campers should allow their campfires to burn completely to ash before attempting to extinguish them. If this is not possible, campers should drown their campfires half an hour before breaking camp or going to sleep. [8]
  • Pouring water is more effective than burying with dirt, as fires can smolder under dirt for hours before re-emerging. When drowning a campfire, campers should be sure to douse all embers and ashes, not just ones that are red. Campers should continue pouring water over the fire until the hissing sound stops, after which they should stir the wet remains with a shovel to make sure everything has gotten wet. It is also a good idea to scrape the remaining sticks and logs with a shovel to remove any embers that might remain and add them to the mixture. [9]
  • Even after taking these steps, campers should not leave their campfire if the embers are still hot. If it is too hot to touch, then it is too hot to leave. It is also a good idea to check the surrounding area for any embers that may have escaped. [10]

Camping can be a great way to enjoy the cooler weather and beautiful scenery that Fall brings. Stay safe and have fun!


[1] http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/modoc/home/?cid=stelprdb5313899; http://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asphttp://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asp

[2] http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/modoc/home/?cid=stelprdb5313899; http://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asp; http://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asp

[3] http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/modoc/home/?cid=stelprdb5313899; http://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asp; http://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asp; http://www.smokeybear.com/dig-pit.asphttp://www.smokeybear.com/dig-pit.asp

[4] http://www.smokeybear.com/build-campfire.asphttp://www.smokeybear.com/build-campfire.asp; http://www.smokeybear.com/dig-pit.asp

[5] http://www.smokeybear.com/build-campfire.asp

[6] http://www.smokeybear.com/build-campfire.asp

[7] http://www.smokeybear.com/build-campfire.asp; http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/modoc/home/?cid=stelprdb5313899; http://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asp

[8] http://www.smokeybear.com/put-out-campfire.asphttp://www.smokeybear.com/put-out-campfire.asp; http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/modoc/home/?cid=stelprdb5313899; http://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asp

[9] http://www.smokeybear.com/put-out-campfire.asp; http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/modoc/home/?cid=stelprdb5313899; http://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asp

[10] http://www.smokeybear.com/put-out-campfire.asp; http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/modoc/home/?cid=stelprdb5313899; http://www.smokeybear.com/pick-your-spot.asp

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