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It's likely we have all heard these words before: “Only you can prevent forest fires!” Smokey the Bear has been encouraging us to practice campfire safety for a long time. Now is the time to make sure you know all of the rules for starting, managing and putting out your campfire.

How to Choose a Campfire Location

Choosing the right spot for your campfire is immensely important. Not only can the location impact how long your fire lasts, it is also a matter of safety! Follow these simply rules to help zone in on the perfect spot:

  1. Be aware of rules in the campsite regarding campfires. If the rules say no campfires are allowed, do not build one. If campfires are allowed, look for already-prepared fire pits.
  2. Avoid building your campfire too close to tents. Try to build it 15 feet away or more from the closest tents.
  3. Make sure your location is easy for digging. Rocky areas can make digging very difficult.
  4. Find an open area mostly free of dry brush, logs or anything that might catch fire.
  5. Ensure there are no low-hanging branches. Depending on how high you want to make your fire, you may want to consider steering clear of even medium-hanging branches.

  6. Study the wind direction. Make sure the wind patterns will not blow fire and embers toward any loose materials. Preferably, pick a spot that is protected from wind gusts.

How to Prepare a Campfire

Once you have your campfire site all laid out, now comes the fun part: building the fire! However, don't just grab a bundle of sticks and throw on a match. Follow these rules to create, and maintain, a safe fire:

  1. Clear a wide area (at least 10 feet in diameter) of any dry brush, twigs, logs or anything else that could potentially catch fire.
  2. Dig a hole in the ground that is about 1 foot deep. If you're not sure how deep your hole is, measure with shoes. An average, adult-sized shoe is approximately 1-foot long.
  3. Make a ring of rocks around the hole. This will help prevent fire and embers from spilling out. Go for larger, flatter rocks if you can find them. Otherwise, use a lot of smaller rocks in a half-foot wide circle.
  4. Have a bucket of water nearby. Just in case your fire gets out of control, you will want an emergency solution.
  5. Find the right wood: Tinder, which is small twigs, leaves and grass; kindling, which are small sticks; Fuel, which are larger branches or logs for burning.
  6. Never cut down trees for firewood. Remember: Leave No Trace!
  7. Add the kindling to the fire pit.
  8. Light your kindling with a match or, if you're adventurous, with a flint.
  9. As the fire begins to grow, add more tinder.
  10. Be sure to blow on the fire. Remember that fire needs oxygen to burn!
  11. Lightly drop in your kindling and fuel.

  12. How to Properly Put Out a Campfire

    There's no greater camping fire safety rule than how to put one out! Follow Smokey the Bear's simple rules for putting out your campfire:

    1. Give your wood and other combustible materials time to burn themselves down to ashes (if possible).
    2. Use as much water as you can to completely drown out the fire and any embers. Ensure you do not see any burning embers left in the zone.

    3. Wait until you no longer hear hissing noises.
    4. Stir the wet ashes with a shovel to ensure full mixture with the water.
    5. Scrape the sticks and logs to help remove any lasting embers.
    6. Ensure everything is cold to the touch.
    7. If water is not available, use dirt. However, ensure you are mixing the dirt around in the embers until the embers and ashes are cool. Simply covering the ashes with dirt will only allow them to heat up more, including heating up any roots that may be under the ground.

    Download or Share This Helpful Checklist for Your Next Camping Trip

    For additional camp safety tips, read Outdoor Camping Safety Checklist & Tips.