How to Put out a Campfire

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Camping isn’t camping without a campfire. And when we go camping, we don’t go a night without lighting our campfire. What’s camping without ‘Smores?

We go camping every summer. Last summer we did a road trip through Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. Here’s a photo of me … I was by the campfire with a beer cracked open at 6pm sharp every night:

how to put out a campfire

And when our kids are old enough we’ll take them camping all the time.

But campfires are also dangerous. And we’ll make sure we teach them how to put out a campfire.

This is how we do it. And of course, this isn’t an official set of steps or even professional advice. This is just how we do it.

First, we never leave a campfire alone.

Importantly, we think it’s important to make sure that the fire is completely extinguished before leaving the campfire alone. That includes before jumping into our tent at the end of the night, and before leaving the camp site at the end of our visit.

Campfires can easily re-ignite

The big danger of camp fires is that they look like they’re out even when they aren’t. You might have put out all the flames, but the smoldering embers can flare up with the simplest wind change or falling twig. So, we follow some important steps every time we light a campfire.

How to Put Out a Campfire

Step 1. Start Early

Putting out a campfire takes time. Even after you’ve completed all of the active steps in putting it out, we think you still need to wait around a while to clean off the area and make sure the fire stays ‘put out’. So we put out the campfire first thing when we start packing up.

If it’s the end of the night, we put out the fire following the steps below, then do our other tasks like washing our dishes. This will allow you time to keep an eye on the fire as it cools.

Similarly, if we’re leaving the campsite, we follow these steps for putting the fire out, then pack our car. We come back to the fire after we’ve packed our car and cleaned the area to check-in on the fire again.

Step 2. Let the Fire Burn to White Ash

It is always safest to wait for the fire to burn out to white ash. This will make sure that there is minimal fuel available for the fire to burn. It always seems to be the case that someone wants to chuck another log on the fire 30 minutes before the end of the night. While this might be fun – it means there’s a whole lot of left over fuel on the fire when it’s time to put it out. So, a little foresight and pre-planning can go a long way to making putting out the fire easier at the end of the night.

Step 3. Spread the Remaining Coals and Fuel Evenly

Unfortunately sometimes it isn’t always possible to wait until the fire burns to white ash.

If there are remaining coals or wood, we spread them evenly. We try to make sure any fuels left in the fire pit are not touching one another.

Step 4. Pour Water or Soil over the Fire

Most fire authorities recommend using water to put out a campfire. But, sometimes we don’t have access to water. If we can’t get water, we use soil instead.

This is the main step in putting out any fire. The water and soil is placed over the fire to smother it. The goal is to deprive the fire of oxygen so it can’t burn.

We put as much water over the fire as we can. When the fire is completely submerged in water, it’ll have no way of getting access to oxygen. But usually you’ll not be able to put enough water on the fire to completely smother it. That’s why we do Step 5.

Step 5. Stir the Fire

Stirring the water and soil in with the ash will help to smother it. We like to stir it into a paste, adding water and soil when necessary.

If there are leftover logs or chunks of half-burnt fuel in the fire, we roll it in the water and soil so its surfaces are covered to help smother the logs and cool them down.

Step 6. Repeat Steps 4 and 5 until the Heat is Removed

We then repeat Steps 4 and 5. This is especially important if there are still red embers in the fire – all red embers should be well and truly out!

We add more water and soil then stir the fire once more. Even if we feel as if the fire is out, repeating these steps will help to lower the heat even further. As the heat lowers, the chances of the fire re-igniting decrease.

We like to keep repeating Steps 4 and 5 until the fire is cold. It’s obviously dangerous to actually touch smoldering fires. So we don’t actually touching the fire ash. But we find you can very carefully hover your hand close to the fire (but we do not touch) to check for radiant heat.

Step 7. Survey the Surrounding Area

Once we’re up to Step 7, we are usually pretty confident that the fire is out. But, there are still some safety precautions we choose to do. It may not seem it, but a fire can re-ignite easily. A wind change or falling leaf is all it takes for the fire to start up again.

First step is to ensure there are no fuels within 3 feet of the fire pit itself. We remove any kindling, leaves, twigs or logs from the area. If the fire re-ignites, we don’t want any easily accessibly fuels around.

Next, we look around your camp site for glowing embers. Sometimes a fire spits out burning leaves and embers that can ignite spot fires up to 20 feet away from the fire. So we scour the area and check to make sure there are no burning embers left around.

Conclusion

Once we have followed all 7 steps on how to put out a campfire, we find it’s always a good idea to hang around for another 20-30 minutes. That’s why we put out my fires before we pack the car. Then we can pack the car (or if we’re going to sleep, get all set up and packed up for bed time) and come back to the fire one last time to make sure it’s completely out.

Camping is such a great activity. It’s so much fun and great for bonding with friends, family and kids. We can’t wait for our kids to be old enough to enjoy camping with us. But from an early age we’ll teach our kids the importance of safety while camping – and part of that is ensuring we put out your campfire 100% before going to sleep or leaving our campsite.