Everyone loves a good wood burning campfire. They’re amazing for bringing people together, getting people talking, and creating memories. Campfires are a social lubricant, and the centerpiece to some of the greatest nights you’ll ever have!
Everyone has memories of sitting around a fire as a child roasting marshmallows and Smores or cooking a sausage.
But it’s important to stay safe while creating these great memories.
There are some safety guidelines that you should follow.
These guidelines will ensure the fire is a success and you all go home the next day with happy memories!
In this article, we’ll give you a clear and simple checklist of everything you need to consider when it comes to campfire and fire pit safety.
1. Follow the Laws
Ensure you’re Following the Law: Some parks and wilderness areas insist on a ‘leave no trace’ approach to campfires. This is where you may not be allowed to build a fire pit into the ground. In these instances, you may need to use a portable fire pit that is raised several inches from the ground to contain the fire. Or, you might have to use a certified propane powered fire.
The laws vary considerably from place to place. Laws can be provided by federal and state governments, or even by the park rangers from park to park.
This is where portable fire pits are particularly handy.
If you have a portable fire pit, you can go on a camping kit with more confidence. You’ll be able to construct your fire pit anywhere and do minimal damage to the area. You’ll be able to ‘leave no trace’ and contain the fire more effectively.
2. Clear the Area
The area surrounding a fire needs to be clean and clear to prevent accidental spot fires.
All it takes is a small breeze to push the embers from your fire a few feet downwind. If there’s anything downwind of the fire, there’s a good chance your fire’s going to spread beyond its original fire pit.
So, before starting the fire, remember to scrape away any grass or twigs in the 6-10 feet surrounding the fire.
But that’s not all.
Look up! Fires burn upwards, so it’s imperative you don’t have a fire underneath branches. Place your fire clear of trees and debris in an open, relatively clear space.
3. Build Fires Downwind of your Camp
Building fires downwind has several advantages.
The first – of course – is that the smoke will blow away from your tent, not toward it. So you’ll have a more comfortable night sleeping in a nice fresh tent.
But there’s also the matter of preventing embers from blowing into your camping area. If embers do fly out from your fire, it’s better that they don’t get caught in your valuables, setting them alight.
And then there’s the matter of cooking. If you cook downwind, the smell of the food wafts away from the campground – leading any pesky animals in the opposite direction of you.
What’s better is to have a high-walled fire pit that blocks wind from messing with the fire too much. This will help ensure your fire is smooth and doesn’t spit embers into the surrounding nature.
4. Keep Extinguishing Tools Nearby
If your campfire does cause spit fires to flare up around you, you’ll need to act fast to extinguish it.
The best tools for putting out fires include:
- A Shovel
- A Bucket of Water
- A Wet Canvas Bag
A shovel or wet canvas bag can be used to pat out any spot fires. You can also use the shovel to pour dirt on the spot fire to deny it of oxygen.
Similarly, both a bucket of water and sand can deny the fire of oxygen. Pour water over the fire, then stir it into a paste to ensure it’s well and truly out.
When it’s time to put out your campfire, all these tools will come in handy. It’s important to make sure the fire is completely out and cold to touch before you leave the campfire location or go to sleep. You can read more on our guide on how to put out a campfire.
5. Never use Accelerants
Never use a flammable liquid (especially gasoline) to start a fire. These accelerants are unpredictable and can cause your fire to get out of your control very quickly.
Raised fire pits are also not built for accelerants.
Gasoline and fire starters can do damage to the fire pit, which may cause it to develop holes or collapse from the inside. To protect the life span of your purchase, make sure you only place wood and paper in the fire as fuels.
6. Supervise the Fire at all Times
Of course, as parents our first concern is about preventing our children from being harmed by an open fire.
But fire supervision isn’t just about keeping kids from hurting themselves in the fire. It’s also about ensuring the fire itself does not get out of control.
Campfires can be erratic and unpredictable. This is particularly true if you add too much fuel to the fire or there is a change in weather patterns. These changes can cause embers to jump out of the fire and let the fire spread.
Even fires that appear to have been put out can quickly re-ignite. All it takes is a small breeze to add some oxygen to the embers for the fire to re-kindle and ruin your night.
So, ensure you don’t leave the fire unattended for the duration of your stay.
7. Dress Appropriately
Loose fitting clothing is more likely to catch fire. This is particularly true of loose fitting sleeves, that can catch fire when leaning over the fire pit to stoke the flames.
A good solution is to get fireplace tools (or your shovel) and use them as an arm when tending to the fire.
It’s also a good idea to wear closed shoes. Flip flops can be a trip hazard. But they also leave your feet exposed to embers that spit out from the fire, which can burn your feet.
While dressing appropriately can help minimize accidents, those accidents can still occur. So if your clothes do catch alight, remember to “STOP, DROP, ROLL” to put out a clothing fire.
8. Ensure the Fire is Out Before Bed
A common faux pax is to allow a fire to keep burning when you go to sleep at night. Unfortunately, this can’t be done!
During the night, a rising wind (or even the natural spread of the fire to another log) can cause the fire to flare and get out of your control. If you’re asleep you’ll be caught unaware until it’s too late.
The best thing to do is start putting the fire out 30 minutes before bed.
Try to have the fire extinguished down to a point where you think it is out, then do your bedtime preparations – clean your teeth, etc.
Then come back to the fire just before bed for one last check to ensure the coals are cool and mixed in well with water, soil or sand.
If you don’t want to deal with the mess of putting out a fire, there are other options.
Consider, for example, getting a gas powered outdoor fire pit that is easier to control. Simply turn off the gas and the fire is out. You’ll need a propane tank for this.
The downside of a gas powered fire pit is that it doesn’t have the magical feel of a wood powered fire.
9. Use a Grilling Grate when Cooking
When cooking over a fire pit or campfire, you’ll need to get yourself a campfire grill grate. These grates are usually portable, allowing you to grill over your outdoor fire, then pack it all up when you’re done.
A grilling grate can prevent your campfire food from becoming fuel for the fire. When the food is suspended on the grate, it’ll not only cook more evenly than if it’s on the end of a stick, but it’ll be safer as well.
There are a range of different campfire grilling grates on the market. You can get one that fits in the trunk of the car, or even a grate that can fit in the backpack if you’re a camper. Check our full review of campfire grilling grates for a range of options that you might like.
Camping is one of the most enjoyable pass times for making friends and creating memories. We love to go camping together as a family every summer.
But when it comes to lighting your fire, make sure you follow the laws of your area and are conscious of fire safety. Supervise the fire, keep it under control, and act smart at all times. Being conservative around fires is always the best option to prevent your happy memories from becoming ones you’d rather forget.
We hope this overview of fire pit safety has been useful!