All it takes is one spark!
A campfire built without safe clearance or carelessly abandoned can turn a small fire into a dangerous and fast-moving blaze. Be sure to build your campfire in a way that does not endanger other campers or the surrounding forest.
Check with local authorities on open-air burning restrictions and fire bans in the area.
NEVER leave a campfire unattended. Extinguished the fire completely before leaving the camping area.
How to Build an Open Campfire
Build the campfire in a level, open location where it will not spread. Make certain that the campfire is well away from tents, RVs, logs, brush, dry grass, leaves, needles, overhanging tree branches, or any other combustible material.
Clear an area at least 10 feet in diameter (local regulations may vary). Scrape away grass, leaves, or needles down to soil or rock. Scoop a depression in the center of the cleared area in which to build the fire and put a ring of rocks around it.
Crumple newspaper and pile split kindling in cleared area and light the fire. NEVER use gasoline or other flammable liquids as an aid to starting a campfire.
NEVER build a campfire on a windy day—sparks or embers from the fire could travel quite a distance setting an unintentional fire.
While the Campfire is Burning
NEVER leave a campfire unattended—ensure that a responsible adult is monitoring the campfire at all times. Supervise children around the campfire at all times and NEVER allow horseplay near or involving the campfire, such as jumping over the fire.
Keep all combustible materials, including flammable liquids, propane cylinders, and lighting fluid away from the campfire.
Watch the wind direction to ensure sparks aren’t approaching any flammable materials. Stack extra wood upwind and away from the campfire so that sparks from the campfire cannot ignite your woodpile.
ALWAYS keep plenty of water and a shovel nearby.
Teach children how to STOP, DROP, and ROLL should their clothing catch on fire. Teach children to cool a burn with cool running water for 3 to 5 minutes.
Secure all lighters and matches and keep out of children’s reach.
Be aware that as little as one second contact with a 158-degree F campfire can cause third degree, full thickness burns. The average campfire can get as hot as 932 degrees F in as little as three hours.
The majority of children are burned the morning after a fire from coming into contact with hot ashes or embers.
A campfire left to burn itself out or put out with sand only can still be 212 degrees F eight hours later. The buried coals and embers retain their heat underground like an oven. There is also a risk that the fire may spontaneously re-ignite. A child may mistake the pile of sand or dirt as a sand castle and attempt to play in it.
The temperature, less than four inches below the surface of the sand or dirt can be as high as 572 degrees F.
How to Completely Extinguish an Open Campfire
After carefully putting the campfire out using water, stir the dampened coals and douse again with water.
As an added precaution, shovel sand or dirt to cover the dampened coals to smother any remaining embers.
Use the “drown, stir, and feel” method: drown the fire with water, then stir around the fire area with your shovel to wet any remaining embers and ash. Be sure to turn wood and coals over and wet all sides. Move some dirt onto the fire site and mix thoroughly to fully smother it.
And finally, feel the area with the back of your hand to ensure nothing is still smoldering.
Only you can prevent wildfires.
—Smoky the Bear