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campfire protocols...
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Rafi Harzahav
(rhz10) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
campfire protocols... on 08/07/2012 10:05:18 MDT Print View

I get nervous about leaving a campfire unattended or not having the fire fully extinguished when leaving the area. My backpacking associates and I were having a discussion about campfires, and a couple of questions arose.

Are there any circumstances under which you'd leave a campfire unattended--whether there are actual flames or hot coals? By unattended I mean that you're away for any length of time beyond a couple of minutes, go more than say 100 meters from the campfire, and the campfire is out of direct sight?

Also, when is a fire considered "extinguished" and safe to leave? Some thought it was enough just to let it burn down and put rocks over the coals. Others thought using some water, some dirt and some more water is enough. Does everyone here always use the "drown, stir, and feel method" ala smokey bear--making sure that the coals are completely cold to the touch--even between say an evening fire and a morning fire in the same fire pit?



Yuri R
(Yazon) - F

Campfire on 08/07/2012 10:24:47 MDT Print View

Don't leave unattended

Put out the fire and coals before leaving. Either with water (not very good as a lot of ash goes up into the air with steam) or cover with moist soil. Dry soil or sand will not extinguish it right away and will allow the coals to smolder for a long while.

Basically you want to make sure that no coals or fire can be blown by the wind or existentially kicked to where they will cause a fire.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
re: Campfire protocols on 08/07/2012 10:51:51 MDT Print View

Do not leave unattended. Ever.

Drown, stir, feel. Repeat as necessary.

Keep the fire small.

Only on mineral soil - remove all organic debris before building.

If not in an established ring, remove all traces before leaving (after extinguishing completely).

I'm one who enjoys a campfire, but I generally only make one if I need it for cooking, or am in an established campground (car camping) where I generally buy the wood from the campground host. I like using the Bushbuddy and other mini wood cookstoves, but they use only a tiny amount of twigs, burn to ash and cool quickly. A campfire per se tends to be big and use a lot of wood (especially if there are many young men involved!)which tends to denude the local environment.

Added: I've seen some videos of fire building and campfires from the East Coast which, if down out here in dry Western mountains, would result in massive forest fires - things like building campfires within a hands distance of dead leaves and other organic debris. Horrifying out here!

Edited by grampa on 08/07/2012 10:54:50 MDT.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
I almost burned down a forest on 08/07/2012 13:31:01 MDT Print View

East Lake, out of Cedar Grove. Put the fire out, LOTS of water, stirred the coals until it was OUT. Went to sleep to a calm, cloudless sky. Woke two hours later to a roaring fire. It had been stoked by a fierce katabatic wind that had kicked up after we went to sleep. Sparks were blowing out of the stone ring and catching in the nearby duff. Seriously within a few minutes of streaking out of control.

Dumped the bear can and used it as a bucket. Many trips to the stream later it was out again. This time for good.

Lesson: Stone rings can hide coals from your stirring and water. Hard knots of pitchy wood can harbor lots of heat and are waterproof.

I don't like much making fires anymore. When I do, I keep everything well inside the stones and I never use pitchy wood. When I'm done putting it out there's a lake where the fire pit used to be.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
mineral earth on 08/07/2012 16:38:10 MDT Print View

One error you can do is building a fire on dirt that isn't dug down to mineral earth. You can think that the fire is out when in reality there are still roots or twigs smoldering that will burn slowly over hours or days (?) until the burn surfaces and causes a forest fire. So especially here out west to be truly safe you have to do the water/stir/feel thing. Unless you build the fire on a rock slab or something- which will scorch the rock, and is thus a bit of a faux pas. In fact, an unforgivable offense.

Since I couldn't live with myself if I started a forest fire I tend to be pretty conservative about extinguishing camp fires in the rare instance that I build one. If I didn't have enough water I'd be mixing the ashes with moist earth or sand until it was cool to the touch. If I didn't even have that, I'd make do without a fire.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: campfire protocols... on 08/07/2012 16:39:16 MDT Print View

The fire should be DEAD out. That means you can stick your hand in it. I have packed in full-sized shovels to backcountry campsites in order to make putting the fire completely out easier for people.

Living in So Cal, I usually don't even make a fire most of the time. When I do, it's between the months of November and April and it's only in campsites with water nearby. We will drown the fire completely with more gallons of water than is necessary.

If you leave a fire even just a little hot, what happens if the trees above drop leaves and twigs in? What if it is smoldering a bunch of charcoal deep down below? What if a hot wind kicks up and fans sparks into the surrounding area?

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: campfire protocols... on 08/07/2012 16:50:33 MDT Print View

Provide adequate supervision for young people when using stoves or fires.
Follow all product and safety labels for stoves.
Use approved containers for fuel.
Never leave a fire unattended.
Keep wood and other fuel sources away from fire.
Thoroughly extinguish all fires.

Matthew mcgurk
(phatpacker) - F

Locale: Central coast California
Fires on 08/14/2012 18:16:27 MDT Print View

Some people say make charcoal soup but its more like a stew. I make charcoal broth and it has never failed. I also dont nessesarily follow the fire season rationale. If it looks dry I just dont have a fire period. Clearing the area before fires is the step that most frequently gets skipped so remember to do this. Also avoid a windy night fire regardless of the season. People when backpacking forget to bring a container large enough to douse fires properly. I use an empty Crystal geyser bottle for everyone that comes with me. You can pump from them in camp into your drinking bottles, shower with them, douse fires and store extra water in an emergency. Great light weight gear dirt cheap insurance

Brian UL

Locale: New England
charcoal soup on 08/14/2012 18:32:23 MDT Print View

"Some people say make charcoal soup but its more like a stew. I make charcoal broth and it has never failed"

This is how I learned.
-You dowse the fire with water until its cool enough to scoop up with your bare hands
-then you put all the ash/coals in your pot filled with water.
-While the ash/coals are in the pot being completely soaked you feel around into the dirt/mud under where the fire was to see if you can feel any heat. This makes sure no roots or hidden coals are left.
-Then you pour out the ash/coal water from your pot onto the dowsed fire pit and cover with duff to hide. (you can cover with duff because you just made sure no heat/fire is left and made essentially, a mud puddle)
done. Very few people do this unfortunately, and it can be a hassle if the fire is big, BUT as backpackers 99% of our fires are small cook fires that are easy to control and put out this way.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: campfire protocols... on 08/14/2012 19:02:31 MDT Print View

Having put out a few campfires that people must have thought were out - since they had packed up and moved on - I agree completely with the drowning method. Plenty of water and stir vigorously. And Never leave the fire unattended - which to me means don't go out of sight of it.