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Campfires - To Burn or Not to Burn

Updated on August 5, 2017
Dolores Monet profile image

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

campfire
campfire | Source

A big part of the romance of camping is the campfire. The ring of stones, the little teepee of logs and bright flame dancing in the darkness harkens back to our Neolithic ancestors and reminds us that the ability to control fire is a big part of what makes us human.


A fire warms us on a chilly night. It serves as a focal point for cooking hot-dogs and S’mores and calls up all those half-remembered folk songs that involve a lot of repetition. A fire keeps bugs away and deters vampires, monsters and boogey-men.


A campfire also makes a big mess. Building a fire sends people out into the woods to gather fallen branches that are supposed to break down to make the duff – that nice, soft forest floor. A fire can get out of control and cause horrendous devastation.


The campfire can become an obsession. You constantly fiddle with it, feed it and must guard it constantly. It destroys your night vision. The fire as a focal point isolates you in an island of brightness beyond which you see nothing. You could set up your campfire in the middle of a parking lot for all you’re aware of the world outside the fire circle.


I used to love our campfire. After carefully clearing the area of everything, I’d build a small teepee fire about 8 feet away from a large fallen log which provided comfortable seating.


When a mean forest ranger invaded our campsite one day to inform us that the rules had changed, campfires were now forbidden in the area, I was heartbroken. He also instructed me that Smokey Bear’s middle name was not ‘The,’ engendering a discussion that lasted longer than the campfire discussion.But… nights in the woods with no campfire gave us a magnificent view of the night sky, shooting stars and once a faint glimpse of the Aurora borealis – pale white curtains of light fluttering in the northern sky. We never would have noticed it if we had a fire going.

Without the snapping and popping of fire, we heard the loons and the frogs and the soft swish of air in the hemlocks. Without our obsession with the campfire, we felt free to roam our little island where we camped, to dwell in sweet silence, washed in the aroma of the lake and the trees. Plus, we didn’t walk around smelling like we bought our clothes at a fire sale.

  • No campfire meant no big mess of scorched rocks and logs and a great smear of ashes.
  • No campfire meant less worrying about the fool left in charge of it when I went to bed.
  • No campfire means less impact on our natural surroundings.

Open fires are becoming less acceptable in these days of low impact camping. Stoves are more environmentally friendly and easier for cooking. Many areas outright forbid fire.

If you must have a campfire, closely follow campground rules and fire safety guidelines. Me – I like the cool, quiet night, the stars and the sweet, smokeless air. I’m sorry that I was snippy to that fire stanching ranger and in his honor, remind you how Smokey Bear used to say – ‘you can prevent forest fires. No 'The.'

No campfire means beautiful night views.
No campfire means beautiful night views. | Source

Remember what our old pal Smokey used to say.

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    • profile image

      Tim Wolf 

      2 years ago

      I do like camp fires. At caesar creek state park here in Ohio, there are areas at the camp sites to have fires. Perhaps if you are in the forest you could have what is called a "Dakota fire hole". Easy to make and you can make it look like you were never there. By the way, if you watch old western shows, you will see where they will cover their tracks by hiding where their fire was. Just sayin'.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      campingwithkids - oh, you bet. Nothing like a nice cup of coffee around a cmapfire!

      Hi, Ben - What a wonderful wake that must have been! Yet so sad. I love SCOTS, and have seen them perform. When they through the biscuits and chicken at the audience, it's great fun. Firefly is one of my favorite songs ever!

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Wow, never woulda pegged you for a SCOTS fan! I'm blown away Dolores! Your friend with the hammock, indeed a nut! Then you might know another fav of mine by SCOTS, Cheap Motel, cinder block walls and all! lol

      It really was a great outdoor experience honoring a wonderful friend of mine recently deceased. I am glad to experience the outdoors this way, it makes me feel human in the best way and thank God for that.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi, Ben - we were with a dear friend who is also a bit of a nut and he built this humongous fire, he scared me to death. I was kind of glad that the fires ended on our island. It kept our idiot friend in check. He got a ticket for hanging his hammock right under a 'no camping' sign. Last couple of times, we just sat on the little beach on the lake and enjoyed the night. That sounds like some party! It reminds me of the song "Firefly" by Southern Culture on the Skids - about a party in a woods at night.

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      This reminds me of an old Indian saying, "White man builds a big fire and sits far away from it. Red man builds a small fire and sits close to it." I enjoyed your objective approach to this fairly pointed topic Dolores. I did have the opportunity to fall asleep in a hayfield sans tent this summer. This party I was at had two wonderful bonfires going, one in the bottom of an old silo ring. Your writing reminds me of the value of camping without a fire. I hope they are never fully banned though, I have a fiery obsession to be sure.

      Ben

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Mikey - well of course the problem is the people who start the fires. And a fire in a dry area or an area where fire is restricted is not a good idea. You think you are in total control over a fire, but you are not. Burn down your own house? That's harsh. That's why I wrote this - people go out camping who are new at it and need to learn a few tips. Why be mean to newbies? Thank you for commenting! Happy camping!

    • profile image

      Mikey 

      6 years ago

      Oh come on! Can we PLEASE quit blaming the thing and figure out the problem is the people!

      When I camp you will never know that I had a fire. Oh, and as for the "previous fire" location -- I bury that one too!

      But instead of telling people like it is (what I mean is anybody who goes camping and leaves their crap behind is a stupid jerk that should stay in the city) -- we go around banning fires and talking about "how bad they are" for the environment!

      Having a fire is not a tough decision. A small, controlled, responsible fire is a fantastic camping addition. Just don't be an ass when you leave! Clean up your site, bury your fire, and if you are really a nice person put some limbs over the fire area so it blends in with everything else.

      Oh yea -- and forget the bonfires! They do not belong in the woods, grasslands, or anywhere other than your own back yard. Want to burn something down? Burn down your own house!

    • Camping with Kids profile image

      GA Andereson (Gus) 

      7 years ago from Maryland, USA

      very good points advocating not having an evening campfire, but... sitting around a campfire in the evening with a cup of good coffee is such an important part of camping, for me, that I'm willing to walk away from the site and fire if I want sit sit and star-gaze.

      Gus

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Twin - I had a fit when I found we could not have a fire. But now, I prefer a dark night - its so pretty! Thanks!

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      I like how you brought out some of the positive things that came out of not being able to have a fire. You realized there was so much to see and hear. Thanks for a great hub:)

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Thanks for the input, Camping Dan. Yes, there's a lot to think about and you have to be careful, sensible and be able to understand the area.

    • Camping Dan profile image

      Camping Dan 

      9 years ago

      This is a tough call on whether to have a fire or not. Of course in some areas it is flat out not an option. But when it is I let the area decide. If there is a pre-existing fire ring and plenty of down fuel I will build one, if not I use my camping stove only.

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