One of the best things about camping is sitting around the fire cooking dinner, toasting marshmallows and chatting perhaps singing into the night. Fires are awesome. As a Forest School Leader and Trainer I care deeply about the people in my care and the environment; here are my tips to ensure campfire leaves only happy memories.
Look Up and Around and About
Scouting out a good site is essential to fire safety. First of all make sure there are no restrictions on fires in the area you are wishing to camp. Some areas ban all fires because of the high risk of wildfires. If you enjoy the great outdoors the last thing you want to do is risk destroying it. If there are no restrictions on fire, find a place with no low hanging branches that is clear of brush, bushes which could go up in flames.
Make your pit safer
Keep a 1.5m radius of clear soil around the fire pit. Make sure there’s no grass, debris, chairs etc. within this. If you have no metal fire pit, circle the fire with rock or damp logs to keep the borders of the fire. Beware rocks can get very hot which is why we tend to use logs more in a Forest School setting. Keep all flammable items away from the fire.
Light the fire safely
We use fire strikers and a variety of tinder to light our fires. It can take a bit longer than matches but it’s far more satisfying. Never use paraffin or petrol to get your fire going as this can easily cause fires to get out of hand. See our post on fire lighting for how to light a good fire. When foraging for wood make sure you have permission from the landowner and only do so if there is plenty of dead wood around,;if in doubt bring your own wood. Don’t burn elder as it gives off toxic smoke, the same can be true of treated wood and plastic waste.
Have sufficient water to hand
At Forest School we always have at least 15 Litres of water next to the fire in case a gust of wind or a piece of burning wood moving causes our fire to grow larger than anticipated. Water helps us control the fire and put it out if necessary.
When there is a large group of people around the fire, people often assume someone else is taking responsibility for it. Before you leave the fire circle make sure another adult takes responsibility for the fire and keeps an eye on children and animals near the fire.
Another thing I’m very hot at teaching at Forest School is sitting safely by the fire. By this I mean creating a stable base so that you can’t accidentally loose your balance and topple into the fire. Sitting cross legged or with one leg bent in front of you as in these photos
Extinguish before you go
When it’s time to leave the campfire even if it’s just to go to bed, you need to extinguish the fire. Throwing water or dirt on the fire is the best option. Let the fire die down as much as possible before you extinguish it to reduce the spitting from water on embers. Stir the wet ashes around with a shovel or stick to ensure another fire won’t start.
Scatter the ashes
Unless it’s a designated fire pit, its best to try and leave no trace of the fire. When you are 100% certain the ashes are cold and thoroughly wet scatter them widely. So they are not easily seen.