Campfire Basics

Where theres camping, theres fire. Its inevitable. But unfortunately, almost everyone thinks they know how to build a fire.

There are definitely right and wrong ways to build, maintain and extinguish campfires. While this doesnt cover every detail of camp fires, it will help guide you to enjoy it and to be safe.

Quick Tips

  • Use only dead and down wood. Never break branches from standing trees, even if they appear dead.
  • Keep your fire small, so it does not get out of control and future campers will be able to find firewood too.
  • Bring a shovel to your campsite.
  • Bring a bucket for quick extinguishing.
  • Keep the fire small & manageable.
  • Before you turn in for bedtime, make sure there are no flames.
  • Remember to fold up your camp chairs and lay them down. Winds have been known to blow them into the fire and ignite.
  • Extinguish old coals and firepit any time you leave camp.

Choosing a Site
No fire should be lit close to trees, tents or other fire hazards. This includes overhanging branches; some carry dead, dry material that can ignite from a single airborne ember. In addition, a fire may harm any roots under it, even if they are protected by a thin layer of soil. Conifers run a greater risk of root damage, because they lack taproots and their roots run close to the surface. Fires also should not be lit on bare rocks, because the ash will leave a black stain.

The Fire Pit
Always use an established fire ring when available.

If you must build a new fire ring, select a level spot away from over hanging trees, bushes, or dry grass. Avoid the base of steep hills, as fire travels uphill quickly. Clear a circle 10 feet across down to bare dirt. Hollow out a fire hole two feet across, and five or six inches deep. Pile the soil around the edge of the fire hole.

Tending the Fire
Pay attention to dry brush near camp, wind conditions, branches over head & embers that pop out of the firepit. Do not dispose of glass, metal, plastic or aluminum foil into the fire, this just leaves a mess for future campers to look at.

Make sure there are no flames when it’s bedtime; if so drown the fire. The wind could always pick up when you are asleep. Lay all camp chairs down well away from the fire pit.

Put Your Fire Dead Out

If you had a fire the night before and the fire seems out, it is highly likely that the coals are still cooking way underneath. Douse the fire with water and listen for the sizzling to stop. Put your fire dead out at least 1/2 hour before you break camp. Let the coals die down, then pour water over the ashes, and spread soil over them. Mix soil, water, and ashes until the embers are completely out.


  • Build your fire on an upward slope. Fire travels up hill fast; plus the winds push it.
  • Build a fire on top of pine needles; fluffy soil. Dig down to the bare soil. Clear fire (sparks fly out) radius at least 8 feet around pit.
  • Start your fire with charcoal lighter fluid. There are plenty of products on the market such as fire starter sticks to help with such a task.
  • Throw plastics, glass or aluminum into the campfire. It is very difficult to clean up.
  • Build a fire in windy conditions.

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