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How to Build a Campfire

Updated on January 4, 2018
Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores and her family enjoy primitive camping on an island in the Adirondacks in upstate New York.

The Campfire

from an old postcard
from an old postcard


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.

People Singing Around a Campfire

Campfires - how to build a campfire, campfire safety, and campfire clean-up.



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!)

Firewood
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.


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.

Remember

  • Never leave a fire burning without an attendant. Perhaps some one person can 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 build a log-cabin fire.

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.

Cute film on how to build a fire.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Wium Lacock 

      5 years ago

      Excellent!

    • profile image

      Mark 

      6 years ago

      One particular point which should be made is to make sure enough wood is gathered before dark. It may be cumbersome at first but well worth the additional effort before starting a fire. Nobody likes to scramble around looking for firewood after you start the fire. Also, try making it with one match every time. Very impressive. http://myadventurecamping.com

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Leo, as Camping Dan pointed out, building a fire the wrong way can be very dangerous and foolish.

    • profile image

      LeoSavage 

      8 years ago

      Camping Dan, you're so right! I cannot tell you how many times I have been over at a friend's place and had to fix their fire for them. Great hub, by the way! :)

    • profile image

      phil 

      8 years ago

      cool!

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Michael, I know, it can be a wonderful thing to do, gathered around the campfire with family and friends. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 

      8 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Nice Hub! There is nothing better than sitting around a campfire...

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Glad that you liked it, wild turkey!

    • wldtky44 profile image

      wldtky44 

      8 years ago from Great North Kingdom

      Wonderful reading Dolores

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Dan, you are so right. Fire is serious business. The place we camp now forbids fires altogether. We complained at first, but then got used to the dark, quiet night. I now prefer no fire.

    • Camping Dan profile image

      Camping Dan 

      9 years ago

      It is always surprising to me just how many people do not know how to start a fire efficiently. Most just toss some wood together and pour a flammable liquid on and stand back. Pretty scary stuff.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      i am laughing about the major building project - some campsites have fire places that can be nice

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 

      9 years ago from London

      yes, a ring of stones, not a major building project.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      a stone fireplace is nice but a big job when camping and most parks don't really want you building things, unless you mean a fire ring

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 

      9 years ago from London

      building a stone fireplace is the best (-:

    working

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