Campfires are a popular activity that bring warmth and joy to the campsite. However, one of the primary dangers when it comes to having a campfire is the risk of starting a forest fire. The most common way that forest fires start in the United States is when campers leave their fires unattended or do not properly extinguish them. You should never go to sleep or leave your camp before your fire is fully extinguished.
Anytime you consider building a fire in the outdoors, it’s important to first plan ahead. Ask yourself the following questions to minimize the danger of your fire getting out of control:
- Is a fire even necessary? Nowadays, efficient camp stoves replace the need to start a fire for cooking and stoves truly leave no trace. Are you burning simply for entertainment?
- What is the current fire danger? You should check what the current fire restrictions are with the county and land management agency. Some places may have a ban on all campfires during the dry season.
- Is it too windy for a fire? Summertime is particularly dry in Siskiyou and wind can blow sparks or ashes and reignite other materials and start a fire that can quickly get out of control.
- How will you put the fire out when you are done? Starting your fire in a fire ring near to an abundant water source and keeping it small to prevent it from getting out of control are ideal practices.
Here are some easy tips on how to extinguish your campfire properly:
Step 1: Stop adding wood to the fire and begin the process of letting it burn down naturally. For a campfire to burn out completely you need to wait until the fuel source, or wood, has burned up completely. This will take many hours. Spread out embers so they die, leaving only ashes.
Step 2: Drown the fire by pouring buckets of water on the ashes until soaked. Continue pouring water until the hissing stops. Stir the fire with a stick or shovel and drown it again. Turn the wood and coals to wet all sides and scrape hot embers off any wood that did not burn.
Step 3: Ensure the fire ring area is cool before departing. Feel with the back of your hand to ensure it is not smoldering. Any radiating heat means that the fire is not completely out. It only takes a single ember to make the fire start up again. The fire is fully extinguished when it’s completely cool to the touch. The rocks surrounding the fire should be cool to the touch when the fire is fully extinguished. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
Principle 5: Minimize Campfire Impacts – Leave No Trace Center (lnt.org)