Camping: Fire Safety and Fun

“Camping: Fire Safety and Fun”

Now that you have your gear and your supplies, you are all set to camp. But you can’t camp without a camp fire! I can’t talk about camping without giving you the low down on fire safety rules and regulations. No one wants to be the guy that burnt the forest down, destroying it for future generations. With a few safety tips, you can enjoy your s’mores and no one will get hurt!


1.) Fire Permits.

Just because you are camping, doesn’t mean there aren’t rules. In most states, you must have a fire permit to use anything that can potentially start a fire. You read that right, stoves, lanterns, and of course, the campfire.  If you are camping in a regulated camp ground (the kind that has designated camps with fire rings), there’s a good chance that your fire permit is included in your site usage fee. But, that’s not always the case. To find out, stop at a ranger station on the way to the camp ground you are headed to. Nearly all ranger stations can be found on major highways and access roads, and they are easy to spot. And guess what, fire permits are free. But you must be able to present your permit any time a ranger asks for it, so get one and have it handy. Better safe than sorry!

3.) Smokey the Bear says “Know your no burn dates”.

Camping isn’t exactly a free for all when in comes to fire. There are many times during the year that burning a fire is simply not allowed – permit or not. In general, fire alerts will be posted when you get close to camping areas. Most national parks will have a sign on the entrance to the camp ground if fires aren’t permitted that day. Generally, it’s the hottest and windiest days of the year that are no fire days, and for good reason. It pays to know the fire regulations in the area you are heading to. Burning a fire on a no burn day can lead to fines, jail time, or both.

Lets get this fire started!

1.) Clean up the fire pit. Before you even think about putting wood in that fire pit, clear the area. In most camp grounds, there will be a fire pit with a metal ring that goes down into the ground. You will also need to clear a 6 foot area around the pit. If you aren’t camping in an official camp ground, find a flat surface and clear a 6 foot ring. Creating a circle for the fire with rocks will help. Make sure the fire area is completely free from pine cones, twigs, tree branches, and pine needles. All you should see is dirt.

Do you know what duff is? Duff is a layer of decomposing plant matter on the top layer of the forest floor. It’s very flammable, and sinister! One small ember can spark the duff into a forest fire. It can take days for the ember to actually ignite, but it will. You can be held responsible for any and all damages created by a forest fire – even one that started in duff. So be careful!

2.) Get your wood all stacked in the pit and ready to go. Got a boy scout in the fam? Put them to work! If not, here’s how to build a fire. Lay the kindling on the bottom in a small pile. Kindling can be anything from really small pieces of wood to twigs and small branches. Even pine cones. Then, stack your medium sized pieces of wood on a tee-pee fashion around the kindling. Make sure nothing is hanging outside the fire ring.

3.) Don’t you even THINK about starting that fire yet! You need something to put it out with if things get out of hand. If you brought a bucket with you, fill it with water and set it in a place that you can grab and dump in an emergency. If all you have are jugs, fill several of them up. However you can do it, just make sure you have lots of water close at hand.

4.) Once the fire has been burning for a while, you can add larger pieces of wood. Just be mindful of how late you want to stay up. You don’t want to have to douse a blazing fire with buckets of water just because you got tired and wanted to head to to bed. That will leave the whole fire pit too damp and the next nights fire will be more like a smoke signal. No fun!

4.) NOW you can start the fire. Throw a match (or three) onto the kindling, and the rest of the work will be done for you. This is a good time to use those long stick matches I mentioned before. Don’t use lighter fluid or anything of that nature. If you need help getting the fire started (maybe the larger wood won’t catch) there are safe fire starting aids that you can buy. There’s a whole host of them here. I have used Coghlan’s Fire Sticks with great success. Also, the great out doors aren’t the place to use those fireplace logs. They aren’t made for campfires.

Putting the fire out (begin this around a half hour before you want to go to sleep, or break camp)

1.) Let the fire burn down as much as possible. Stop putting logs on the fire about an hour before you plan on turning in. It will eventually be hot glowing embers with no flames. Your fire is NOT out yet!

2.) Break up the wood coals with a shovel

3.) Stir the ashes with small amounts of water until the pit is no longer hot.

*dumping dirt on top of the fire isn’t putting it out, it could still smolder.

4.) Check for embers that may have jumped out to be sure the area surrounding the pit is clear.

Extra stuff you should know:

•Don’t burn things like paper plates and napkins. When those light weight items burn, they basically turn into hot ash that flies out of the fire and can spark the duff, or surrounding trees, even your tent!

•Make sure any trash you decide it burn is burn safe. Meaning it doesn’t release toxic chemicals into the air. If you aren’t sure, toss in the trash not the pit.

•Try to avoid building campfires near trees that are hanging down close to the pit. Most regulated sites are groomed at the beginning of the season, but later in the year you might need to ask someone to trim a tree for you. It’s ok to do that! That’s what the rangers are there for.

•Don’t ever leave your fire unattended. Even for a minute. Bad things happen in the blink of an eye. And of course, children shouldn’t play near fires. That goes without saying, right?

•The forest is not the place for bonfires. Keep it small and maintained, and you will enjoy it all night. Beaches on the other hand, might be ok. Find out how your beach campsite host feels about bonfires before starting one though.


Did you know your fire can be fun too? Of course, roasting marsh mellows and telling ghost stories is fun all on it’s own. But, your fire can be the life of the party. Dress it up with Funky Flames! Funky Flames are little packets of assorted copper salts. When the copper salt burns, it has colorful flames. It doesn’t spark or anything like that, so it’s safe for outdoor fires. It’s made of food grade ingredients, so it’s non toxic (I do not recommend anyone eating this), and it doesn’t leave anything behind in the fire pit. Surprise the kids with Funky Flames! Even as an adult, I find them fun. They aren’t all that expensive either. About 6 bucks for a three pack, and they burn for around 30 minutes. I know, that’s fast. But it’s cool while it lasts!

Now that I have shared some fire safety and tips, you are all set for a fun camp fire. Now get out there and get camping!

Here are the official federal guidelines for fire regulation in the US. And more about Federal fire safety here.

**This is written based off my own personal experience and general knowledge of fire safety. I am not a safety expert. Please use your good judgement when starting a fire. This is meant to be a guideline. I was not compensated for this endorsement of Funky Flames. I have used them, and love my purple and blue  fire!**



  • Jessica on June 24, 2011

    Great tips Rebekah! I haven’t attempted camping yet with the little but I love reading your tips.

  • Heather on June 25, 2011

    Thanks Rebekah! We are planning a long surf trip/wedding hopping up the Cali coast in October and will be putting a lot of these tricks to the test. I’m definitely going to pick up some Funky Flames to surprise the crew :)


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