How to Properly Put out a Campfire
Put the flames to rest and keep your campground safe by following these steps for ending a fire safely every time.
The day is winding down. You begin gathering twigs and small sticks as the sun ekes out its last few rays of light and the air cools. In just a few moments, what is now a glowing ember will become a warm and dancing array of blues, oranges, and yellows. There really is no substitute for rounding out the day with a proper campfire.
Campfires are perhaps the most beloved aspect of camping. Everyone is huddled around the warmth, sharing their days and perhaps some telling a few tales from the past. Marshmallows on sticks abound, maybe even one flaming like an Olympic torch. While campfires provide lots of family fun and are a valuable utility as a heating and cooking source, they also require a lot of respect and responsibility.
As Smokey the Bear has said for decades, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” Poor practice and negligence unfortunately lead to thousands of fires each year. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of wildfires in the U.S. are caused by people and a significant portion is made up of campfires gone awry. Not only are millions of beautiful acres burned to a crisp, but billions of dollars in damage occur and tragically, lives are lost.
As a lover of campfires, the best thing you can do for your fellow campers, and all of the wildlife that surround you, is that you know how to properly put out a campfire. Many folks think that if the flame is out, you’re good to go. As it turns out, that is a very dangerous practice. So, let’s go over some important steps to ensure your campfire experience is enjoyable and safe for all.
Safety Starts Before the Flame
If you’re planning to have a campfire, it’s a great idea to take preventive action so that you won’t have a smoky situation on your hands. Most campgrounds will provide you with a pre-existing fire ring; make sure you use it! Metal and stone fire rings do a great job of containing your fire and park staff typically monitor and maintain these areas for overgrowth which can pose a significant fire hazard.
In the event you’re camping in a more remote area and will be selecting your own fire area, gather rocks to create your own ring and clear all surrounding brush. You’ll also want to find a level area to set up. Fires on uneven ground can lead to rolling, flaming sticks and logs and well… you can probably figure out what happens next.
During Your Fire, Be Prepared
Even if you aren’t planning on ending your fire festivities any time soon, you’ll need some water and a shovel at the ready. Changing weather conditions, especially wind, can turn a cozy campfire into a raging problem in the blink of an eye. This is also why a fire must never be left unattended.
Extinguishing the Flame
Just pour on some water and watch the flames die, right? Nope. Properly putting out a fire takes some time and care. Cutting corners will only put you and your fellow campers at risk.
The water part is absolutely right. Have plenty of water available. And then some extra. And maybe even more. You will want to seriously DROWN your fire with water. Think charred, sticky stew.
Next, you’ll want to mix all the ashes and embers together with some soil from the ground, so be sure to have a shovel of some kind on hand. A sturdy mixing stick can also work in a pinch. Take care to scrape off all the embers and that every inch of fire material becomes damp with water.
Check your work by feeling for warmth. Hover your hand over all the ashes and touch the fire ring or rocks. If you couldn’t comfortably rest your hand on any area around the fire, it’s still too hot. Add more water and keep on stirring.
Finally, take a few extra minutes to wait and be on the lookout for any ashes or embers that may reignite. Believe it or not, embers from very hot fires can withstand your first douse and stir session. During this time, you can circle around your fire area and double-check for any errant sparks that may have escaped during your wonderfully thorough mixing. Check one more time for warmth, and then that’s it! You have properly and responsibly put out your campfire.
Even if you are a fire-extinguishing pro, it’s not always the right time for a fire. Campgrounds and parks typically evaluate the weather and seasonal conditions. Dry spells and other alterations in weather patterns can make your usual cozy campfire a serious wildfire hazard in certain regions. Before lighting a flame, be sure to check in with the park or campground staff to see if there are any current fire advisories.
Everyone should be able to experience the enjoyment of a campfire. Armed with the proper preparedness and knowledge to safely put out a campfire, you and your camping companions are sure to enjoy countless hours of toasty comfort and fun.