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10 Tips for Building a Safe Campfire

By Catherine Boeckmann
7/14/2012 9:59:14 AM

The days are long, school’s out, and the night sky sparkles.

How about firing up the fun with a campfire? There’s nothing like sitting in a magical trance with family and friends, letting the dancing fire entertain you, and roasting one more s’more.

With that in mind, here are 10 tips for building a campfire! We’ll also share two fun finds to help you build the perfect fire every time and roast the perfectly toasted marshmallow.

 

1. Use dry firewood!

Freshly cut wood contains up to 50 percent moisture. If steam bubbles and hisses on the fire, it’s wet or green—plus, it will make more campfire smoke, which burns the eyes.

2. Prepare a good supply of “fuel.”

Collect your fuel:

(a) tinder (dry leaves, pine needles, grasses, wood shavings, rolled paper balls)

(b) kindling (dry, dead twigs)

(c) chopped firewood (thicker than 3 inches in diameter)
You’ll be starting your fire with the tinder and kindling—which provides surface area without a lot of weight to get a fire going; logs are too much weight in the beginning.
For an average fire, we suggest two “hats” worth of kindling and tinder. Once you’re in the process of fire-making, you don’t want to run out of fuel!

3. Clear a site at least 10 feet across.

Debris should be removed so that you are starting the fire on bare soil. The cleared circle should be about 10 feet across. Never locate your site near overhanging branches or standing deadwood—or, too close to your tent. A fire ring can be built with stones and rocks to contain the fire. Keep a bucket of water close to the fire for emergency use.

4. Create a base.

There are two basic types: the tepee and the log cabin.

  • Teepee: Make a loose pile of tinder in the center (a couple of handfuls) and place the kindling vertically around the tinder in the shape of a tepee. After lighting the fire, feed it with more branches and then firewood as the fire grows. 

  • Log cabin: Place four large logs (about 8 to 10 inches in diameter) in a 2- to 3-foot square—well bedded down. Stack logs to form a short horizontal stack. Fill the center with tinder and kindling. There are variants of the log cabin, such as the lean-to, which is easier for novices/kids and will burn wood more slowly.

We recommend the teepee for its informal beauty and higher burning flames. Building a teepee can be learned and you can cheat with a Frame-A-Fire . . .

5. Frame your fire.

Here's am easy way to build a perfect fire every time:

It’s called “Frame-A-Fire” and keeps firewood at the perfect angle for burning.

This handy item gives you a burning tepee in no time—and makes life much easier.

The frame even folds up for easy storage and can be used as a basket to carry wood, as a cooking grate over a fire, and as a trivet!

See more about Frame-A-Fire at Almanac.com. 

6. Light your fire.

Use matches or a lighter and light tinder from all sides. You can blow on the fire to get it going with oxygen, but blow gently! Never use charcoal lighter fluid or white gas (such as Coleman lantern/camp stove gas) as a campfire accelerant. 

7. Keep the fire going.

Eventually, the base logs will burn through. As this happens, move them into the center and replace with new logs. Pace your burning to make sure that your log supply lasts as long as you wish to have a campfire. We’ve all prematurely burned out of wood at one time or another in our enthusiasm to have a big, robust fire.

If you want less fire, dampen it with a shovelful of dirt, sand, or ash. If you desire more blaze, add kindling to the top. Don’t put a giant log on the fire at the end of the night; make sure that you time the fire’s natural end with quitting time.

8. Put out the fire safely.

At the end of the night, use your poker stick to break apart the remnants of your tepee or log cabin. Slowly pour in gallons of water and stir it around so that no more sparks can be seen. Be careful not to put your hands in the ashes for the next couple of days; ashes can remain extremely hot even under the water and cool ash mud. Hot ash from underneath is helpful if you want to have a fire the following night.

9. Roast the perfectly toasted marshmallow!

Let’s be honest: This IS the reason for a campfire for some of us. 

So how DO you roast the perfectly toasted marshmallow? Avoid putting your roasting stick right into the flames; place it to the side over glowing coals.

This year, we discovered a neat trick to roast better marshmallows, hot dogs, and more! It’s called the Fire Fishing Pole

You hold the pole over the fire and just jig it with a quick jerk to flip the roasting tongs (and food) back and forth. The result is a more evenly toasted marshmallow or wiener.

It’s really lot of fun and safe, especially for kids! 

See more about the Fire Fishing Pole at Almanac.com.

10. Check the skies!

Finally, check the weather on AccuWeather.com and consult these handy tools on Almanac.com:

When will the Sun set? 

When will the Moon be shining?

What are the best days for camping?

What are the best fishing days?

An evening by the outdoor fire is always more magical if the night is clear—and the Moon lights up the sky! 

Contest Giveaway

For summer fun, win that Fire Fishing Pole to cook your food outdoors. When you JIG the "rod," it FLIPS your hotdog or marshmallow! Sponsored by The Old Farmer's Almanac. Click here to enter contest!

S'more Recipes!

The classic s'more is always delicious. Here are some more creative recipes as you enjoy the fire:

Turtles: Graham crackers, caramel and milk chocolate, marshmallow, and whole pecan halves

Nutty Banana: Graham crackers, Reese’s peanut butter cup, marshmallow, and banana

Strawberry Chocolate: Graham crackers, dark chocolate, marshmallow, and fresh strawberries

Grasshopper: Graham crackers, marshmallow, and Andes mints

Caribbean: Graham crackers, marshmallow, caramel, and shaved coconut

See more s’mores ideas—plus, a recipe for amazing graham crackers. If you make these, you’ll become a camping legend!

Besides s’mores, here are some great recipes to cook on your campfire:

Campfire Smelt

Barbecue Bean Supper

Tequila Ribs

River Taters

Camp Mix Seasonings—Add to ANYTHING, and your food will taste better!

Potato Hobo Packs

Want a quick, simple recipe for the grill? Try hobo packs—packages of vegetables or meats wrapped in foil and cooked directly on hot coals. See recipe and photos.

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