Survival Skills 101: How to Build a Campfire

Photo Credit: Eerik (iStock)

Campfire season is approaching quickly and so is increased wildfire danger, so we are giving you your annual reminder of fire building skills, tips, and safety precautions.

Anecdote: When I grew up in Maine, fires were a staple for nightly activities, camping, and bearing chilly New England nights. I assumed most of the population knew how to build a fire from the time they were children. Then I became a raft guide and began guiding overnight trips with guests that stared in shock as we built them a fire and cooked their dinner under the stars. This led me to realize that there are many folks out there that haven’t had the opportunity to learn one of the most basic human skills, and I think that needs to change.

Campfire Preparation 

Colorado’s land gets enough abuse as it is, so please use proper safety procedures when building fires and don’t be the person that starts a wildfire.

Dig a pit of some sort and surround it with rocks. Then make a plan to properly extinguish the fire (water and a shovel recommended). Always use a fire pan where they are required. Plan for the area where you plan to build the fire. Ask yourself: Will there be wood I can collect? What is the fire danger in the area? Is there a safe place to build the fire? Do I have access to water?

Building the Campfire

Use only dead branches and fallen trees as live tress won’t burn and dead standing trees can be animal habitats.

Pile tinder (dry twigs, grass and leaves) in the pit.

Pile kindling (small sticks) according to your personal fire building strategy: the teepee or log cabin methods are common.

Light the tinder and blow at the base of the fire while continuing to fuel the fire with more wood as the fire grows.

Contain the fire safely.

Extinguishing the Campfire 

Pour a lot of water on all the embers. If you don’t have any water, stir in dirt or sand to bury the fire.

Make sure there are no exposed burning embers, and continue adding water and stirring until the area is cool to the touch.

Practice Leave No Trace Principles

LNT methods are always best. Common practice includes building fires only in previously disturbed areas or using existing fire rings or fire pans. Elevated fires create less of an impact and keep the area looking natural. Also remember to only burn local wood. Importing firewood from other areas can spread invasive species.

Enjoy your camping season and remember: only you can prevent wildfires.

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