What is it about fire that lures us to it? As a kid, you probably were like me, and anytime there was a campfire or fire lit in the fireplace, it became the center of attention. I was always the one with the fire poking, insisting I could make it better by molesting the coals more. Fire can be a source of entertainment in the great outdoors, but it can also bring about plenty of headaches. We know fire is potentially destructive, and it will burn indiscriminately. While we want you to enjoy the warmth, light, and comfort it provides, we don’t want you to curse it by making one of these campfire safety violations.
There are four stages to making fire; preparation, starting, maintenance, and extinguishing. Don’t start a fire you can’t put out. This typically means having plenty of water on hand to drown it long before you spark it up. Also, be aware of your surroundings. Starting a fire in tinderbox country isn’t smart when the wind is blowing. Embers can easily take and spread your little campfire into a raging inferno. Look overhead before you build a fire. Dried leaves, branches, and bark can ignite above you just as they can around you. Assuming you are successful in making your fire, illuminating your campground, cooking your food, or warming your body, be prepared to fully douse all the remaining coals before you leave. Make sure no visible smoke is coming from the fire pit, and stir the ashes around with a shovel.
If you missed our safety brief, fire burns. Your skin is no match for the temps you’ll find in a firepit. A common injury in camp is burning to the hands and the feet. Think about it, in the summer, we tend to wear fewer layers, and we might even go barefoot at night when we put our feet up and relax. Embers that spit from the fire can burn your piggies, and grabbing wood to adjust the flame can burn your hands.
Also common is burning your hands on pots and pans cooking on the fire. Never forget you are using fire as a tool, but you don’t want to play with it. You’ll have to let your inner child down and remind them that fire is dangerous. Keep a set of leather gloves handy for working with fire and a pair of closed-toe camp shoes for walking around at night.
When a fire isn’t satisfied with heat, fuel, and air, it will smoke. One of the most common mistakes is crowding the fire and not letting it breathe. This usually results in getting up close and personal with it and blowing into the base. If you’re lucky, you don’t inhale mouthfuls of smoke. Smoke inhalation is serious business and can lead to discomfort on the low end of the spectrum or death on the other end. When fires smoke, it can cause red eyes, headaches, and even some confusion and stumbling. To prevent a smokey fire, make sure you use good dry, and appropriately sized firewood for the task at hand. Learn to build your fire correctly from the start in any of the proven fire lays that feed the fire the air it needs. One of the best tools around for airing up the fire is a fire genie. Think of it like an old car antenna that gives you some standoff from the base of the fire. As you blow into it, your breath is concentrated from the wider end to the tapered end. This blast of air is often enough to coax stubborn coals into flame.
This sounds like a joke, and perhaps we are only half serious about it but watch out for flaming marshmallows. If there is a campfire, you know someone is showing up with graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows. Somewhere shortly after perfectly golden, there is a state of marshmallow that is on fire, charred, and ready to ruin your night. Our advice is to make sure you roast your marshmallow and don’t burn it. You don’t need direct contact with the flame to make your white puffed treat turn into the perfect melted mess for your s’more. Make sure your marshmallow is properly secured to the roasting stick, and for the love of God, don’t wave it around to put it out if it ends up on fire. Simply blow a strong breath on it, and you’ll hopefully catch it before it is too late.
Our society has come a long way since hanging out around a fire in the early days. We now have more impressive gear and clothing made from high-tech materials. Unfortunately, these materials aren’t as heat resistant as their predecessors, made from wool, steel, and leather. For this reason, ensure you understand the melting point of the gear you set near your fire. It isn’t uncommon to see melted boots on those attempting to warm their feet by the fire.
Also common is the scenario where multiple layers are worn that insulate the wearer from the heat long enough for the outer garment to melt. Also common is reaching for a hot pan with a synthetic glove on or using a synthetic cloth as a pot holder. If you spent your hard-earned money to acquire this gear, don’t let one good night by a fire destroy it.
Campfire safety is extremely important, but it is often overlooked, or caution is thrown to the wind as groups grow in size, campers burn the midnight oil and stay up all night, liquid courage is passed around, and when someone untrained is put in charge of something so vital to the group. Make sure you always respect fire because that same tool that provides warmth boils water, cooks food, signals for help, heats your shelter, and saves your bacon can also burn you and your kit if you’re not careful.