Campfire Safety


Regardless of the type of camping you do, you’ll probably need fire of some sort, at least for food preparation.  Fire and dry vegetation do not mix well and the results of neglecting campfire safety can be disastrous.  With that in mind here are some helpful hints offered by the Tennessee State Fire Marshal with some editing.

Before leaving home

  • Check with authorities at your camping location for outdoor burning restrictions. During especially dry seasons even recreational and cooking fires can be restricted.   Open fires are often banned in Wilderness and other remote areas so be sure to bring a gas stove for meal preparation.
  • Check the weather forecast. Be aware of any unsafe weather conditions, such as high winds.
  • Talk to your group about the importance of fire safety. Make sure everyone knows to stop, drop, cover their face and roll should their clothes catch on fire.
  • Set family boundaries. Only designated adults should light the campfire, add wood or put out the fire. Never let children use matches or light a fire.

Preparing and managing your campsite

  • If possible, use an existing fire pit or fire ring at the campsite.
  • If there is not an existing fire pit, and pits are allowed, look for a site that is at least 15 feet away from tent walls, shrubs, trees, or other flammable objects. Avoid areas with overhanging branches, steep slopes or dry grasses. Clear the area of all debris, down to bare soil.
  • Construct a fire ring from rocks and keep the ring under four feet in diameter with a ten foot clearance around the perimeter.
  • Fill the pit with small pieces of dry wood; never rip or cut branches from living trees.
  •  Stack any extra wood upwind away from the fire.
  • Have a bucket of water and shovel nearby to put out the fire. Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Do not use flammable liquids to start a campfire.
  • Never use matches or lighters inside tents. Never burn charcoal, or use portable camping eaters, lanterns or stoves inside tents, campers or vehicles.  Besides the high risk of fire,  these activities can use the air in your tent or vehicle leading to asphyxiation.
  • Never burn aerosol cans, pressurized containers, glass, or aluminum cans.  Pressurized containers and aerosol cans can explode and cause you much pain.
  • Set and enforce a safety zone around the campfire where all can sit and relax around the fire. Stress to children the importance of staying out of the safety zone. Always supervise children when a campfire or hot coals are burning.  It is way too common to melt the soles of your shoes so be sure your feet are well away from the fire.

Putting the fire out

  • Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible.
  • Pour lots of water on the fire; drown all embers, not just the red ones.
  • Pour until hissing sound stops.
  • Stir the campfire ashes and embers with a shovel.
  • Scrape the sticks and logs to remove any embers.
  • Stir and make sure everything is wet and cold to the touch.
  • If you do not have water, use dirt. Mix enough dirt or sand with the embers. Continue adding and stirring until all material is cool.

REMEMBER: do NOT bury the fire as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire. If it is too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

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