Campfires: Teach Kids to Build Them Safely

The Basic Parts of a Campfire

In order to burn properly, a campfire must have the three elements we all learned about in school: air, fuel and heat. The fuel is obviously the wood; the air is all around, and the initial heat to start the fire is provided by a match or propane lighter.

The fuel must be of assorted sizes, in order for the fire to catch and begin to burn efficiently. You can't just hold your lighter against a big log. It probably won't ignite because there is insufficient heat relative to the size and density of the wood.

Therefore, you must begin with small bits, and work up to larger bits. All of these things are placed in the fire pit in order, with the smallest on the bottom, so that as the flame (heat) rises, it will begin to ignite the pieces above.

These, then, are the parts you need, in order of size:

  1. Tinder
  2. Kindling
  3. Logs

Remember, "tinder is tiny." for this, you want small things such as pine needles, small broken bits of bark, or other such things. Paper can be used, but is not the best idea.

Next, the kindling. This will be small to medium-sized twigs and larger pieces of bark.

Finally, you will add your main fuel, the logs, beginning with smaller ones, and the larger ones on top.

All of this can be scaled, of course, from a tiny cooking fire in a small pit, to a rip-roaring bonfire on the beach. Indeed, a beach is the only safe place to build a "rip-roaring" fire, free as it is from surrounding trees and flammable ground cover. The entire environment is filled with fire-extinguishing materials, from the sand on which it is laid to the nearby water. (Just be sure it is legal on the particular beach where you plan your bonfire!)

Stay Legal

Remember, here in the USA, if you are in a state or national park, you are not allowed to pick up downed wood, or even pine needles from the forest floor to use in your campfire. You must either bring these supplies from home, or purchase them at the camp's store (if they have one), or in a nearby town. It is probably cheaper to bring from home.

In the Sierra National forest, you are allowed to collect downed wood, but you must get a permit to do so. You may not chop down trees or cut limbs from live trees.

Pay attention to area regulations. If signs say, "No open fires," then that means, sorry, no campfires; you may only use your camp stove.

Keep Your Fire Safe

When teaching campfire-building skills, it is also important to teach fire safety. There are certain things that go along with responsible use of fire, and they include:

  • Never build a fire, no matter how small, when it is windy
  • Always have fire-extinguishing materials next to the fire (rake, shovel, bucket of water)
  • Never build a fire under the overhang of tree limbs; select an open area
  • If a pre-built campfire ring is provided, use only that
  • Pay attention to seasonal regulations and high-fire danger signs
  • Never, never use any flammable liquid, especially not gasoline, to start your fire

Start Young For the Lesson to Hold

What I am going to show you here is a method we used in Girl Scouts to teach youngsters how to build fires for camp-outs. When you begin at Brownie age (1st to 3rd grade), and reinforce the lessons into Juniors (4th to 6th grades), by the time they are 6th graders, you will have competent, careful campers able to build a safe campfire. (Even if the adults still handle the ignition source, the kids will have a solid foundation.)

Then, at Cadette and Senior Scouting* ages (junior high/middle school and high school), they will be more than capable of actually directing and helping younger kids with their fire building and safety lessons.

That is the Girl Scout way: Learn one; Do one; Teach one.

*(These are the age divisions that existed within Scouting when my kids and I were involved, back in the mid 1980s. They may have changed since then.)

Your edible fire ingredients can be modified somewhat by group vote
Your edible fire ingredients can be modified somewhat by group vote

An Edible Fire

And now, on to the fun! .For this safe, indoor lesson, you'll need a few snack supplies:

  • Raisins or miniature marshmallows
  • Shredded coconut
  • Small pretzel sticks
  • Licorice twists (in whatever flavor is preferred by the group), or Tootsie Rolls

The raisins or marshmallows are your 'rocks' to contain the area of your fire
The raisins or marshmallows are your 'rocks' to contain the area of your fire
The coconut is your tinder
The coconut is your tinder
The pretzel sticks are your kindling
The pretzel sticks are your kindling
The twists or tootsie rolls are your logs
The twists or tootsie rolls are your logs
This is a finished teepee style campfire
This is a finished teepee style campfire

You can teach either a 'log cabin' style fire, (shown just above), or a teepee style fire, (shown at right). The teepee is quite tricky with these materials, and is better suited for older kids.

The kicker is, each kid builds their own fire, but they are not allowed to have any of the goodies until it has been inspected as correctly done, by the instructor. Once it passes muster, they can eat their fires!

Oh, what fun they'll have, going home bragging to be fire-eating dragons!

All photos by Liz Elias ©11-12-13

© 2013 Liz Elias

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Comments 10 comments

ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

Very useful and informative hub!

You also listed the precautions and how to stay legal and that' s a very important part in this hub!

I loved the later part too of creating a replica of the Campfire with dry fruits, for educating the kids, the fun way.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful hub!

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, ChitrangadaSharan,

Thank you very much for your kind comment. I'm delighted you enjoyed this article on having fun while learning to safely build a campfire. Stop by any time.

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 3 years ago from Japan

Very informative Hub. Such a simple thing like fire can spread into disaster is not properly controlled and contained. We used to learn about things like this in Boy scouts, but it is important information for everyone I think.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Hezekiah,

Indeed, fire is a dangerous friend. Useful on the one hand; disastrous on the other. It is important to learn fire safety. I am pleased you liked the Hub, and I thank you for your comment.

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

Fire safety is so important, Liz, I am glad you took the time to write this fascinating hub about keeping the fire you set safe.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, drbj,

I take fire safety very seriously. Perhaps that is because my father spent time in his bachelor days as a forest service fire lookout in the mountains.

I'm glad you liked the article, and thanks much for your comment.

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Campfires: How to Teach Building Them Safely great hub and this information should always be considered when camping out. Useful tips here and so well advised.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, DDE,

I'm glad you found the article useful and informative. Fire safety and awareness is something we all need to remember, out camping or not. Thanks so much for stopping by.

My Cook Book profile image

My Cook Book 3 years ago from India

So good and useful information. Thank you :)

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, My Cook Book,

I'm happy you found this article useful. Thank you for stopping by.

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