Campfire Ring

Campfire Preparation

Before you ever strike a match, you are responsible for a lot of pre-fire planning. Whether you are making a fire for fun, cooking, or warmth, make sure you consider these topics and make good decisions to ensure a safe and appropriate fire. Just as there are 3 elements to fire (fuel, air, heat), there are 3 keys to preparing for fire - permits, safety, and site selection.

Fire Permits

fire permit
Every national park, state or federal forest, and all public land has fire burning restrictions. Those restrictions may range from 'any fire any place' to 'no fires at all' depending on fire danger levels and environmental impacts. It is your responsibility to find out and understand the restrictions before you enter an area. A phone call to the local forest ranger or land manager will enlighten you and keep you out of trouble. Sometimes permits have a cost, but often are free and are a simple means to track and manage forest use.

Some areas also require 'Use Permits' that are often free and used just for tracking visitors. If you fail to get a required permit, then there may be a fine if you are checked.

Fire Danger

fire danger
Even if you CAN have a fire, it doesn't mean you SHOULD have a fire. When in the wild, you always need to use sense and be prepared to take responsibility for the results of your actions. There are three key indicators you should consider whenever you are interested in lighting a fire of any size: A dry, hot, wind is the ultimate wildfire maker. Numerous campfires have been whipped into wildfires destroying thousands and thousands of acres of wilderness all because a person made a poor choice and built a fire in dangerous conditions without considering the risks of his or her actions.

It is best to be conservative - only start a fire when conditions are good, not when conditions are 'not too bad'. And remember that you are a guest in the wilderness and have a responsibility to protect it from your impact.

Fire Safety

fire safety
So, you decided to have a fire. That's great! It should be a lot of fun and mmmmmmmmm, your meal will taste great! Now, before you start building it, make sure you can put it out! And, the only sure way to do that is with water - not dirt or sand, just water.

If you do not have adequate water to extinguish your fire, you should not be lighting it. Covering a fire with dirt will extinguish the flames, but the hot coals can continue to smolder for hours - long enough to ignite underground roots or to blaze back to life when the wind picks up the next day after you have left the site.

And, the water should be immediately available right by the fire, not in the river 200 feet away or in a bottle over by the tent. The water needs to be earmarked for fire suppression and not just whatever is left after cooking and cleaning. If you don't do that, you'll discover that all the water is used up right when that stray ember starts some dry grass burning.

Fire Site


Considering fire danger levels, having correct permits, and being prepared to extinguish your fire are all important steps to guarantee a safe fire. Where you actually build your fire and how you prepare the site are the two most important things you do once you decide to have a campfire.

A fire makes an impact wherever it burns. As a conscientious wilderness visitor, you decide how big and how long-lasting that impact will be. Your goal should be to leave no trace of fire once you move on - please see Leave No Trace Dude website for all aspects of minimizing your wilderness impact. As far as your campfire goes, you make an impact in many ways, and all of them can be minimized:

When using the wilderness, you should make use of the most durable surface available. For example, walking on rocks instead of fragile grass when hiking, or setting up a tent on sand instead of a field of wildflowers. The same goal is true when making your fire, but there are some things that you may not have considered. Here are ways to make a fire that will have a minimal impact:

Move Along: Fire Fuel Kindling and Tinder



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