How to build a safe and efficient campfire

The National Park Service reports that in the 2016 fire season as of September 21st twenty-two wildfires have burned more than 62,000 acres in Yellowstone National Park. This is the highest number of acres burned since the catastrophic 1988 fire that burned over 800,000 acres. Seven fires were the result of human activity such as campfires not being put out, vehicle operations, or improper cigarette disposal. You can help prevent such disasters by properly managing your campfire.

Building a safe and efficient campfire requires both art and skill, often distinguishing the camping and RVing newbie from the veteran. In the dry seasons, first check with area authorities whether open campfires are permitted. You may need a fire permit (free from Rangers) if not camping in a designated campground (boondocking), a shovel (folding is good), and bucket for water.

If you are in a designated campground, there will be a fire area, such as an iron ring or rectangle with a cooking grate on top. But in a primitive campground or when boondocking you may have to build a rock fire ring to contain the fire. Select a spot several yards away from (and not under) any bushes or overhanging tree branches.

Collect all your wood first before building the fire and stack in piles a few feet from your fire. Collect only downed and dead wood–do not break pieces off living trees or shrubs. You will need:

  • Tinder (small dry twigs that snap easily–if they don’t, they are not dry enough). Collect three or four handfuls. A key to successful fire building is using adequate tinder.
  • Kindling (larger sticks about the diameter of your thumb).
  • Fuel wood (a bundle of split logs available from campgrounds or convenience and grocery stores near camping areas. Often you cannot find enough suitable dry logs from around your campsite).

Crunch your smallest tinder into a large bird nest-like pile and lay it in the center of the fire ring. Stack increasingly larger pieces of tinder over the nest in a teepee shape, leaving air space between the pieces and an opening to light the tinder on the upwind side.

Use a wood match or butane lighter and light the bottom of your tinder pile in several places. When it catches, lay more tinder on your teepee as the fire grows.

Now start adding kindling to the teepee, gradually building up the size of the fire. As it collapses inward, keep adding more. When the fire is established:

  • Add fuel wood to the teepee of burning kindling, building the fire wider and taller. As these logs burn down, add more.
  • For a larger fire, lay two logs parallel on opposite sides of the fire, then stack two smaller pieces on top of those on the opposite sides, like building a log cabin. Continue to add wood as needed, narrowing the pile toward the top.

If you leave your campsite or go to bed, let the fire burn down to coals then put it out by stirring and scattering the coals, making sure the flames are out. Sprinkle water on the coals and continue stirring. When you can no longer feel heat on the back of your hand held closely over the fire, it is probably out–but wait 10 to 15 more minutes and feel again for hot spots and sprinkle more water if needed. When you break camp, shovel dirt over the ashes if you didn’t use a fire ring or grate.

Read more of Bob Difley’s posts on the Good Sam Blog and on his Gizmos & Gadgets blog on the RV Travel network of blogs.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing ebooks on Amazon Kindle.

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