How to Build a Safe Campfire

For 75 years, Smokey the bear has been telling us his classic line, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Now, the ASO Mammoth team is going to help you do just that by walking through how to build, start, and extinguish a campfire safely. Even if you think you know how to build a safe campfire or have done so before, take a second to brush up on your fire safety knowledge. Nine out of ten wildfires are manmade and preventable, so even fire experts can share this post and help prevent future fires.

If you need any gear in order to stay fire-safe ahead of your next camping trip, stop by ASO Mammoth for the best outdoor and outdoors sports gear in Mammoth Lakes!

Be Aware of Conditions

You can be fire-safe before you even start a campfire by simply knowing what the conditions are like in your camping area.

Hot, dry, and windy weather is perfect for spreading embers, and if the area you’re camping in hasn’t received rain recently then the dry ground can be a tinderbox just waiting for one stray ember. For this reason, it’s extremely important that you not only pay attention to the conditions surrounding you, but also check local fire regulations for your campground or wilderness area.

Public campgrounds and lands will clearly post how high the fire danger is for a specific day, and as the fire danger goes up the list of rules you have to follow to stay safe grows. For that reason, it is vital that you check conditions and fire status before your visit so you can know exactly how the experts are recommending that you stay fire-safe. Don’t forget, fire conditions can change quickly, so don’t assume that fire danger is the same at a campground as it was the last time you visited.

Choose the Spot for Your Campfire Wisely

The best place for a fire is one that is away from brushy grass and low-hanging branches that could be ignited by embers, in an existing fire ring or site, and is over gravel or rocky soil. Next, you need to clear all flammable materials away from your fire. Flammable materials include those that are natural and manmade, so don’t spend time clearing away sticks and leaves from your campsite and then build your tent too close to the campfire. You can also reduce fire risk by choosing a site that is protected from strong wind gusts.

Even if your fire site matches all of these conditions, the weather could still make building a fire dangerous. If the managers of the land you’re camping on say that fires are not allowed, then follow their rules no matter how safe you think you can be.

Either Find a Fire Ring or Build One

Developed campsites will often have existing fire rings or fire sites that you should always use, but if you’re camping away from a developed campsite then you may have a harder time finding an existing fire ring. Even in the backcountry you can find campsites that have existing fire rings from previous campers, so you should make every effort to do so.

If you can’t find an existing fire ring, then you will have to build one in order to be fire-safe.

Put Your Campfire Out Completely

Lastly, you must extinguish your fire completely with water before leaving your campsite. Although dirt and sand can smother fires, they can also insulate coals and embers that can still start a fire later. Douse your fire with water until the ashes and embers are cool to the touch.

Visit Smokey Bear’s website for more info on how to build a safe campfire and prevent wildfires.