Fire safety in camp is not just about helping Smokey the Bear prevent forest fires; it’s also about personal safety. So how do we manage our campfires in a way that helps promote forest health and prevent painful burn injuries?
We can begin by observing these campfire safety tips.
Choose your firebase wisely. Build campfires on mineral soil, not organic material that can catch fire or smolder, even after the fire looks as if it has been put out.
Look up and look around. Never build a fire beneath overhanging tree limbs or near bushes or grasses. The fire might flare up or send up a shower of sparks. Even “green” foliage can easily catch fire; the sap inside some trees and bushes can burn furiously.
Surround the firebase. Use a solid fire ring or fire pit. If that’s not available, use stones that have been gathered from dry ground to make a fire ring. Avoid river rocks that have been saturated with water; they may expand and fracture when they get hot.
Have fire-fighting equipment close at hand: a bucket of water and a shovel. Locate a water source, so you can easily refill the bucket when necessary. Use the water and a shovel full of mineral soil on the fire to put it out. Before starting the fire, review fire-extinguishing techniques with everyone in the group, and show them where the tools and equipment are.
Don’t use flammable liquids to start the fire. The blaze is likely to flare up when ignited. This could result in personal injury, or the fire may spread.
Keep it small. There is no need for a huge bonfire anyway. It gets so hot that you can’t approach it comfortably. A large fire consumes excess firewood and can send sparks into dry foliage and start a fire.
Be careful as you feed wood into the fire. Place new wood on top the blaze gently. Tossing the wood on the fire can send sparks and embers flying.
Keep everything flammable a safe distance from your fire. Stack firewood far enough away to not catch an errant spark and ignite. Store camp stove and lantern fuel as far away from the fire as possible. Position yourself and other gear upwind and well away from the fire’s heat, smoke, and any flying sparks.
Keep pets and children well back from the fire. It’s easier than you think to get burned, and possible for persons to be overcome by toxic fumes from the blaze and collapse into the fire.
Discuss with everyone in the group the proper safety technique of Stop, Drop and Roll, in the event that someone’s clothing does catch fire.
Now, get out there, enjoy a warm (and safe) campfire, and toast some marshmallows while you’re at it.