Campfires are most people’s favorite part of camping, but building and maintaining a fire comes with some serious risks. Not only do you need to be careful that you and your friends/family don’t burn yourselves, you also need to ensure that the fire doesn’t spread out of control. The expression “playing with fire” to talk about doing dangerous stuff came about for exactly these reasons.
Here are a few tips:
Use a stick to move logs around in the fire. It should go without saying, but don’t use your hands, even if the log looks cool. There may be spots on the log that are still burning hot, even though they don’t appear to be.
Keep your fire contained in a fire pit. A clear area on top of earth or rock is best, surrounded by a circle of rocks stacked a foot or so high. Do not start a fire on top of grass, debris, or even tree roots. The fire can ignite these items and spread beyond your fire pit.
Keep your fire pit a good distance away from tents, tarps, or anything flammable. Embers can fly up into the air, and land on any number of items, creating burn marks, holes, or in some cases igniting these items as well. Keep in mind that wind can pick up at any time, throwing these embers further than it would appear.
Use dead wood, and if possible dry wood. This will reduce the number of embers being thrown up. Wet wood contains pockets of water, and when these expand they turn to gas. Oftentimes these pockets of pressurized steam will get stuck inside of the wood, and eventually blow up. You’ll hear a big pop, and a lot of embers will be thrown around. This can be dangerous for anyone standing nearby.
When it’s time to head to sleep, put the fire out with a few containers of water. Embers are extremely hot, and putting them out safely takes time. Take a stick and stir up the embers once they’ve been doused to expose the ones underneath and do it again. A couple of rounds of this, and it should be safe. You can check by waiting a few minutes and putting your hand a few inches above the pit. If there is still heat coming up, stir it again and pour more water on.