How to Build a Campfire
A campfire creates romantic memories – childhood nights with mom and dad melting marshmallows for S’mores, or late night conversations with old friends or building new ones. Campfires fuel camaraderie, harken back to simpler times and help us remember the words of songs we thought we forgot.
Campfires connect us with past cultures, history and literature. Sometimes you just can’t wait to dig out the old Ernest Hemingway books.
But a campfire isn’t all scorched hot-dogs and Kumbaya. A campfire can create a pretty nasty impact on the environment, depleting food and habitat for animals as well as the building blocks of the forest floor. A campfire can leave a huge mess in a pristine area – busted up trees, half-burnt logs and charred rocks. Not to mention the possibility of forest fire.
Campfires can be dangerous. Damp rocks heated to the boiling point can explode! You can burn yourself or your equipment. So safety is a huge issue.
If you must have a fire, follow the posted rules of your campground. These rules are not in place to spoil your fun but for the safety of you and the forest.
Fire Site and Wood
Fire Site –
Locate your fire in a level area free of debris and duff (the fine fluffy stuff that makes the forest floor) that could catch fire and spread the flame. Avoid overhanging tree limbs or nearby shrubbery. Build your fire well away from your tents, tarps or camping equipment. Clear the area of leaves and twigs. Keep a pot of water nearby. (Be careful not to step in the pot of water!)
Never hack or chop standing or living trees. Bring in your own wood or gather dead fall if that is allowed. If using deadfall, collect it at a distance from your campsite (so that the surrounding area is not stripped of fallen wood).
- Fir, pine and spruce ignite quickly but produce dense smoke and throw dangerous sparks.
- Hard woods such as maple and oak, while hard to ignite, make for a good steady fire with fewer sparks and little smoke. Hard woods are good for cooking and add a pleasant flavor to food.
- Use dry, deadwood as fresh, green wood creates a lot of smoke.
- Do not transport wood from one state to another. You may be responsible for introducing troublesome insects to a wilderness area.
Cute film on how to build a fire.
How to Build a Campfire
Building the Fire
Many campgrounds provide fireplaces or fire rings. If so, build your fire in the designated area. If not, locate a sheltered area out of the wind. Do not build a fire on a windy night.
- Teepee Fire
A teepee fire is easy to start and kept conveniently small and easy to control.
1) Assemble tinder – dried grasses, pine needles, wood shavings, shredded paper, lint, wood dust, or fallen bird nests.
2) Kindling – thin, dry twigs built in a teepee shape over your tinder.
3) Add larger sticks following the basic teepee shape.
4) Light the tinder; add larger pieces of wood as the fire catches.
- Portable Pan Fire or Portable Fireplace
A portable fireplace with a mesh cover lifts the fire off the ground and encloses the flames. Many commercial versions are available.
A fire pan provides an inexpensive, low-impact fire. You can use the metal top of a garbage can, and old drain pan or pick up a hog-feeding pan at your local feed store. Raise the pan on rocks and use small pieces of wood.
- Pit fire
A shallow pit can be dug in an area with little duff. Dig a shallow hole to expose bare soil. A grate can be easily laid over the colas for cooking. Clean up is easy and the chance of the fire spreading is small.
- Do not build a fire near trees or brush.
- Do not build a fire on a windy day as embers can blow away to ignite brush.
- Never leave a fire burning without an attendant. One person should be in charge of the fire at all times so there is not confusion.
- Do not allow kids to ‘play’ with the fire but instruct them on fire-safety. Teach them how to start the fire and let them help.
- Do not allow horseplay or running around the fire area.
- Do not toss wood on fire (but place carefully) as this can send up dangerous sparks.
- Keep a ‘fire stick’ on hand to tend the fire, to keep the fire together and watch out for burning pieces that may fall outward.
How to Put Out a Campfire
1) Allow the fire to die down.
2) Push coals toward the center of the fire
3) Sprinkle water on cooled coals and surrounding area.
4) Stir the remains, breaking up coals.
5) Sprinkle with water again.
6) Hold your hand over the fire to see if you can detect any heat. If not, sift through by hand to make sure the fire is dead.
7) If the fire is not in an established fire ring or fireplace, bury the dead fire with dirt and tramp down.