Camping Fire Safety Procedures To Always Consider
Toasting marshmallows, cooking hot dogs, or enjoying a guitar strumming sing-a-long under a starry sky; a perfect campfire is the warm and wonderful heart of the camping experience. With proper attention to your camp’s fire safety, you can ensure that your campfire will be an enjoyable experience.
Check regulations before you plan your fire
Whether you’re planning on making a campfire in your own rural backyard, a public camp site or somewhere out in the wilderness, be sure to check with your regional fire management centre. Websites like www.FireRestrictions.us are quick and useful if you live in the United States and are needing to know whether that campfire is a go! Otherwise, check with your local fire safety authorities.
Why would the use of fire be banned?
Depending on your local fire hazards, or dangers such as weather conditions or other fire activity, the decision when and where to implement a fire ban in your area is made by the regional fire centres. In anticipation of lightning-based fires, a campfire ban could be implemented to increase fire safety.
- During a season of high risk dry weather or lightning activity, wildfire management authorities simply can not afford to risk diverting their resources and response capabilities from the naturally-caused and far less preventable fire threats.
- Instead, a fire ban will be put into effect to greatly reduce the risk of “false alarm” smoke chases from suspicious smoke and nuisance fires happening in the area, increasing fire safety in a time when resources are needed most.
What you should have before you build your fire:
Aside from the fuel you will need for your fire, you’ll need just a couple of simple fire safety tools:
- A shovel is handy for clearing an area surrounding your fire pit, in order to prevent fire from spreading
along grass and ground debris – a ten foot base is ideal.
- Your shovel will also come in handy if it becomes necessary to put the fire out by means of shoveling earth around and onto the fire.
- A large container of water is necessary to have nearby, before you light your campfire. Your water and shovel will be there to help control the fire and to put the fire out when you are finished. You should have about eight litres or two gallons of water available.
- A poker isn’t just something fun to prod the campfire around with! It will help break up and stir the burning embers into water when you put the fire out.
Portable Fire Pits
Personal backyard fire pits and fireplaces are an enjoyable and easy way to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors, especially in larger rural properties. They’re quick to light, and less messy, but as with any fire they can also pose a dangerous risk. In addition to spreading flames, the smoke can disturb your neighbours. In order to be able to fully enjoy the benefits that portable fire pits have to offer, take time to make fire safety a priority.
A portable campfire or portable firepit apparatus is a free standing fireplace that will burn liquid or gaseous fuel. These portable bonfire pits are specifically designed to provide ambiance and warmth, although some models may have grating to assist with cooking food. In some places, fire pits are regulated under the community standards bylaw.
In the event of a campfire ban, certain approved models may still be allowed (typically CSA or ULC approves portable units) and the flame length shouldn’t exceed 15 centimetres or about 6 inches. In a complete restriction, backyard portable fire pits will be prohibited altogether in order to increase fire safety, so it’s best to check with authorities.
Always make sure to read all instructions, and operate your fire pit apparatus as specified by the manufacturer
- Take responsible precautions to make sure your fire is contained
- If fire does escape and spread from the fire pit, take immediate action to control and extinguish the fire, and report it immediately if necessary
- Always turn the unit off when it is not being attended
If a device is placed on the ground you must:
- Place the fire pit unit on mineral soil, gravel, sand or a non-combustible surface
- Maintain a reasonable “fuel break” or “fire break” around the device, which is a space cleared of flammable materials – this decreases the likelihood of the fire spreading
The only fuel types that should be used in an outdoor fire pit are:
- Clean (non-treated), dry wood
The only materials that should be burned in an outdoor fireplace are:
- Preservative-free wood or wood products
Burning leaves and other yard waste, garbage, paper or any material that might create too much smoke or toxic smoke is a fire safety hazard and is prohibited.
Building a safe and enjoyable campfire
- Make sure to always use dry firewood
Freshly cut wood can contain up to 50 percent moisture. If you hear steam bubbling and hissing on the fire, that means the wood is wet or green. It will make a much more smokey campfire, which burns the eyes and irritates neighbouring campers.
- Prepare a good supply of wood or fuel.
When you collect your fuel, you will need to use:
- Tinder – tinder can be composed of dry leaves, dry grasses, pine needles, wood shavings, small amounts of paper
- Kindling – your kindling should be dry, dead twigs or strips of wood
- Chopped firewood – Firewood should be dry, and thicker than 3 inches in diameter
You will want to start your fire with the tinder first, and kindling, followed by chopped firewood logs (which have too much weight and not enough surface area in the beginning.)
Keeping fire safety in mind, make sure your supply of tinder, kindling and firewood is kept at a distance from the fire itself. The fire should have a clear area surrounding it.
- Clear a fuel break site at least 10 feet across.
- All debris should be removed from the campfire base so that you are starting your campfire on bare soil.
- The cleared area should be about 10 feet across.
- Never create your campfire site underneath or near overhanging branches, or standing deadwood.
- Never create your campfire too close to your tent!
- To increase fire safety, a fire ring can be built with stones and rocks to contain the fire.
- Keep your bucket of water and a shovel close at hand for emergency use.
- Your base should be at least 3 metres or 10 feet from buildings, property lines and anything else that could catch fire
- The pit you create should stand less than 0.6 metres or 2 feet high in order to comply with most fire safety standards
- The pit should be less than 1 metre or 3 feet wide
- Your campfire pit should have raised or enclosed sides made from rocks, bricks, concrete or heavy-gauge metal
- If your pit has a mesh screen on top to stop sparks (spark-arrestor) the openings should be smaller than 1.25 centimetres or 1/2 inch
- Create a base.
There are essentially two types of campfire bases: the tepee and the log cabin.
- Teepee Campfire: Pile a small, loose amount of tinder in the center (a couple of handfuls) then place your kindling vertically around the tinder in the form of a tepee leaning inwards. After lighting the fire from the tinder, feed it with more kindling and then firewood as the campfire grows.
- Log Cabin Campfire: Place four large pieces of chopped wood (about 8 to 10 inches in diameter) in a 2- to 3-foot square. Stack more pieces to form a short horizontal stack. Fill the center of the stack with tinder and kindling. There are several variants of the log cabin style campfire, such as the lean-to, which is easier for beginners and children, and will burn wood much more slowly.
- Lighting your fire.
The most fire safety conscious methods for lighting your campfire are the use matches or a lighter, lighting tinder from all sides. Very gently blow on it to increase a flow of oxygen. Do not pour gasoline, use charcoal lighter fluid, or white gas such as Coleman lantern/camp stove gas to accelerate fire! Gas can cause explosions even from the surrounding fumes in the air
- Keeping your campfire burning safely
The initial logs you placed down will eventually burn through, requiring you to move them toward the center of the flames and replace them with new wood. Pace your log burning to make sure that your wood supply lasts the duration of time you expect to be burning your campfire.
With fire safety in mind, you can dampen a blazing fire with a shovelful of dirt, ash or sand.
Natural timing of the campfire is an acquired skill for some – letting the fire die down naturally be lessening the amount of fuel added until there isn’t much left to be put out at the end of the night. Having a large log thrown on near the end of the campfire will make it that much difficult to safely put out the fire.
- Put out the campfire completely and safely
When it’s time to extinguish your campfire, do so safely. Follow these fire safety measures to ensure that it’s out: use your poker stick to break up any remnants of embers in the burning logs. Slowly pour your pail of water onto all parts of the campfire and stir it around so that no more burning wood can be seen. Be careful not to touch embers or put your hands into the ashes for the next couple of days, as ashes can remain extremely hot even under mud created by the water and cool ash.
A word about limiting disruption to others from noise and smoke:
While you might be enjoying your campfire, not everyone is enjoying the smell of its smoke. Even if you have taken fire safety precautions, the smoke that travels can be a hazard and nuisance. For some, medical conditions can be aggravated by the smoke. Make sure that the fire you create is small and burning clean, dry wood to decrease the amount of smoke wafting towards other campers or your neighbours’ property.
What to do if your clothing catches fire:
Loose clothing can catch fire if you’re standing too close, as can hair and any other materials. Spraying insect repellent too closely is also a fire safety hazard, as it is highly flammable! Always be cautious and keep small children back from the flames. If you do catch fire:
- Don’t run! Running feeds the flames with an increased supply of oxygen, making the fire worse.
- Stop, drop, and roll on the ground to extinguish the flames.
- Douse flames in water, which should be kept near the campfire at all times.
- Treat burns immediately, and seek medical attention.
Things to remember:
- It is also good sense to limit the noise from around the fire pit, especially late at night.
- Unless you’re in a survival situation, it is never a good idea to keep a fire burning through the night. Always extinguish your fire using proper fire safety methods.
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