People enjoy making fires, not in a pyromaniacal way, but in order to be people. I'm sure I'm not the only person that enjoys gazing into a campfire fire surrounded by family and friends after a long day of adventure. Humans have stared into fire from living rooms to out in the middle of nowhere for more than 1.5 million year ,or ever since Prometheus stole from the gods.
One of the best things about camping is spending time around the campfire. Learning to prepare a campfire correctly will make those good times last into the early morning. Before getting to the campsite every adult able to prepare a fire should get a campfire permit. Although campfire permits are only needed for federal and some private campgrounds, it's good to know how to properly handle a campfire. You can help to protect the forest from fires by getting a permit at https://www.readyforwildfire.org/permits/campfire-permit/. All it takes is a short 3 min educational video and a small quiz about fire safety at the end. Don't worry if you fail the quiz, you can retake it until you are confident with the material.
“Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” -Smokey The Bear
Awareness Before preparing a campfire or any type of ignition [portable stoves, barbecues], check all local guidelines and restrictions. Make sure to follow safety protocol to prevent wildfires and to avoid fines from Park Rangers.
Tools & Safety After assessing local fire protocol, prepare tools needed for properly handling a campfire. Every campfire will require a shovel and a bucket for water. It is important to keep a shovel by the campfire at all times as it is useful for preparing and extinguishing campfires. The shovel is used to adjust burning timber, stir and break down any lit embers in the campfire. The bucket is used to store water that is used to drown the embers. Make sure to have a full bucket of water designated to use on the campfire.
USDA APHIS Seal of HeatTreated Firewood
Sourcing Firewood It is very important to use firewood locally sourced around your campground. Firewood is prone to pest infestation and spreading diseases. Infestations destroy our forests and can cost large sums of money to restore campsites. A general rule of thumb for sourcing firewood would be a 10 mile radius from the campsite. The shorter the distance you move the firewood, the better. This means do not burn firewood you cut down in your own backyard or firewood from your local Home Depot. If you are going to a remote area like a desert and know that local firewood is scarce, look for firewood with a Heat Treated Firewood seal. Heat treated firewood is state and federally regulated to ensure safety when moving.
"Campfire safety is YOUR responsibility". - CalFire PreventWildfireCA.org
Now you are ready to start on your campsite. Follow the next steps to safely search for a campground and prepare a fire: Scouting Step 1: Locate and clear the designated space near and around the fire pit. If there is no fire ring or designated space for a campfire, choose a safe place to create a fire ring. Pick a level plot of dirt away from any vegetation and flammable debris. Make sure to look around the plot to confirm there aren't any burrowing critters or fire ant mounds.
Clearing Step 2: After finding a clear level spot to build the campfire, use the shovel to remove any top debris and create a 2-3 ft diameter depression revealing dirt for the base of the fire ring. Continue using the shovel to scrape off any dried leaves, needles, and debris surrounding the fire pit. A minimum of 10 ft diameter should be clear out surrounding the fire pit.
Foraging Stones Step 2.1: If you are camping in a rocky mountain landscape collect enough stones to create a 2-3ft ring around the depression. When choosing stones, avoid choosing porous stones like limestone, shale, pumice, and sandstone. Porous stones are more likely to explode under high temperatures. If you are camping by a river avoid using rounded stones or any stone close to the water's edge, because of the possibility of water being trapped in the rock. The water trapped in stones could potentially cause the stone to explode as the water pressurizes under high temperatures.
Excavating Step 2.2: If you are camping in a landscape free of stones or are unsure about what might explode, you can dig the hole for a fire pit. Using a shovel, create a 2-3 ft diameter hole about 8 to 10 inches deep. Since this fire is in a hole and will have trouble getting airflow, create 1 to 2 small trenches leading into the center of the pit. The trenches will allow for air to fuel the fire from beneath as the hot exhaust rises.
Dry pine needles for kindling
Kindling Step 3: Next step would be to create kindling to start the fire. “Kindling is easily combustible small sticks or twigs used for starting a fire.” You can collect small twigs, pine needles, sticks, dried leaves, tree bark, and dry moss as forms of kindling for the fire. Kindling is important because it supports and encourages a flame to grow into a campfire.
Campfire Preparation Step 4: After kindling is collected and ready for ignition, prepare the firewood for burning. Keep firewood close when first preparing, then move the pile at least 3 ft away from the burning fire. Begin by first placing some of the kindling in the center of the pit. Layer the kindling with dry leaves and twigs so that there is enough air gaps between each material layer. Continue to surround the kindling with small twigs in a tepee formation. Be sure to equally distribute small twigs around kindling to reinforce the structure from toppling. Continue to gradually place larger branches in the same manner till the tip of the tepee is around 1-2 ft tall.
Finally lean the large logs against each other with the bark side facing inwards. The bark facing inside will burn hotter containing the heat in the middle of the campfire.
Light the Fire Step 5: At this point use a lighter or match to ignite the center kindling. The flame from the kindling should grow igniting the larger timbers. Fan the flame to maintain the burn through the last layers of kindling. The flame should be burning the larger logs by this point so sit back and enjoy the warmth. Maintain the fire by fanning and adding wood in tepee formation every hour.
Putting Fire Out Step 6: Decide beforehand when to put out a fire because it takes some time. If the campfire is still a blaze use the shovel to flatten the burning logs. After laying down the logs, spread the bottom charcoal thin so that heat can diminish over a larger area. Use the bucket of water to slowly extinguish the fire. Do not pour large amounts of water onto the fire because as the water rapidly evaporates the steam can violently force ash to rise up out of the pit. Sprinkle water onto the burning embers and stir thoroughly with the shovel. Repeat sprinkling water and stirring, closely float the back of your hand over the bottom; continue until you feel no heat coming from coals. The campfire is a primal symbol and the hearth of the camping experience. The preparation and extinguishing of a fire is a sacred ritual that separates humans from animals. It is a privilege to know how to manipulate matter for warmth and survival. The point of this article is to maintain this craft and the safety of campfire preparation.