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?
Chris and I go camping every summer. Last summer we did a road trip through Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. Here’s a photo I took of Chris … he was by the campfire with a beer cracked open at 6pm sharp every night:
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 some rules about putting out a campfire.
Never leave a campfire alone.
Importantly, you need to make sure that the fire is completely extinguished before you leave the campfire alone. That includes before jumping into your tent at the end of the night, and before you leave the camp site at the end of your visit.
Campfires can easily re-ignite
The big danger of camp fires is that they look 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, some important steps need to be followed every time you light a fire.
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, you still need to wait around a while to clean off the area and make sure the fire stays ‘put out’. So it’s a good idea to put out the campfire first thing when you start packing up.
If it’s the end of the night, put out the fire following the steps below, then do your other tasks like washing your dishes. This will allow you time to keep an eye on the fire as it cools.
Similarly, if you’re leaving the campsite, you’ll want to follow these steps for putting the fire out, then pack your car. Come back to the fire after you’ve packed your car and cleaned the area to check-in on the fire again.
Step 2. Let the Fire Burn to White Ash (If you Can)
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. I always find 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, spread them evenly. 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 you don’t have access to water. If you can’t get water, you can 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.
Put as much water over the fire as you 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 you do Step 5.
Step 5. Stir the Fire
Stirring the water and soil in with the ash will help to smother it. 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, 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
It’s always advisable to repeat Steps 4 and 5. This is even more true if there are still red embers in the fire – all red embers should be well and truly out!
Add more water and soil then stir the fire once more. Even if you 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.
Keep repeating Steps 4 and 5 until the fire is col. It’s obviously dangerous to actually touch smoldering fires. So I wouldn’t recommend actually touching the fire ash. You can very carefully hover your hand close to the fire (do not touch) to check for radiant heat.
Step 7. Survey the Surrounding Area
Once you’re up to Step 7, you should be pretty confident that the fire is out. But, there are still some safety precautions you need 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 is to ensure there are no fuels within 3 feet of the fire pit itself. Remove any kindling, leaves, twigs or logs from the area. If the fire re-ignites, you don’t want any easily accessibly fuels around.
Next, look around your camp site for glowing embers. Sometimes your fire spits out burning leaves and embers that can ignite spot fires up to 20 feet away from the fire. So scour the area and check to make sure there are no burning embers left around.
Once you have followed all 7 steps on how to put out a campfire, it’s always a good idea to hang around for another 20-30 minutes. That’s why I put out my fires before I pack the car. Then I can pack the car (or if I’m 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 your 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 you put out your campfire 100% before going to sleep or leaving your campsite.