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Building The Perfect Camp Fire
There is really nothing more enjoyable than a warm and crackling camp fire when camping on a brisk night in October. The camp fire offers some tremendous benefits to you as a camper whether you are on a camp out with the family, an excursion with friends, a high adventure trek into the wilderness or just a weekend with the Boy Scouts. Some of the great benefits of building and maintaining a well built camp fire are…
- Warmth. The glow of a camp fire to warm weary campers who may have been very busy with their wilderness adventures is a sensation that is hard to match in any other recreational setting.
- Cooking. Camp fires offer a wide variety of options for cooking your evening meals. You can find web sites and many kinds of cookbooks that will teach you sophisticated techniques for camp fire cooking. But even the novice camper can poke a stick through a hot dog and make a delightful meal holding it over an open flame and have great fun doing it.
- Safety. Even though most of us camp in prepared camp grounds, we have to be aware that there are animals out in the wilderness. But the wilderness beasts are very aware that a camp fire means stay away and that healthy distance between them and us suits man and beast alike just fine.
- Light. A camp fire puts a warm glow on the camp site illuminating evening chat and preparations for bunking into your tents.
But of all these benefits, just the moments of friends and family gathering around a warm fire talking about life and sharing stories is one of the great joys of camping out. But there is a misconception that making a fire is as simple as a match and a log. To become an expert at building camp fires, it’s good to learn some techniques that will help you succeed every time you build a fire for your camping companions.
Safety is always job one in any camping outing and that goes double for working with fire in the wilderness. Before you even leave for your camp out, pack a shovel and some buckets to keep water near the fire site at all times. In that way, you are always ready if things get out of hand with the fire. In addition, spend some time in your camp site thinking about the fire, where you will build it and what safety considerations must be taken. The location and preparation for the camp fire is just as important as any safety precaution you take. Here are some important things to keep in mind…
- The fire ring. Always build a fire ring that you will contain the fire within. A fire ring can be made with bricks or large stones you will find around the camp site. Build a circle large enough for your camp fire. Clear away any debris or flammable material from the parameter of the fire ring and then build your fire within that circle. In that way, the area of the fire is well defined and you do not allow it to go outside of that circle.
- Traffic. People need to move around in camp. Make sure there is plenty of clearance for people to go to and from camp and to their tents without being obstructed by the fire. Also leave room for people to sit by the fire and still allow others to move around freely.
- What is overhead? This is a precaution too many overlook. Before you build your fire ring, look up. There should be nothing but sky above your fire. Do not build a fire under tree branches or other overhead material. Sparks from your fire can drift up and cause big problems. So be careful where you place your fire.
- Rules. Children love to play in fires. So adults need to be just as enthusiastic to insist that the fire is not a toy. Hands and feet need to stay out of the fire at all times. Do not allow playful campers to throw rocks, bugs or camp debris into the fire. The only thing that should go into the fire are the logs and sticks you need for fuel. Anything else can result in sparks or even explosions that can be a great danger to campers.
There is a trick to building a good fire. Remember a fire consists of three elements, oxygen, spark and fuel. You cannot just throw 3-4 large logs in a fire, light the bark and expect the fire to be roaring in moments. So follow this procedure…
- Small to large. You will start your camp fire with small twigs, bark and other very tiny pieces of fuel. These items start very quickly and will get a small blaze going for you to use to build a larger fire.
- Use some starter material. Unless you have some ethic about primitive camping, don’t be afraid to use a little newspaper or even a small starter block to get the fire going. But stay away from starter fluids. These will flare up quickly but not lead to a long lasting fire. Pack plenty of matches and keep them in zip bags so you have good starter material when you need it.
- Let it breathe. A good camp fire needs lots of air to build up. So as you build your stack of twigs, keep it loose so there is lots of air between the twigs for the fire to breath. Also as you add larger sticks and finally logs, don’t let them squash the fire and put it out. Maintain plenty of air inside the fire and it will build on its own.
- Increase it slowly. Don’t go from twigs right to large logs. Add slightly bigger sticks, then bigger still and continue slowly adding more fuel and larger pieces for the fire to take on. Only after you have a fairly well established fire will you add the larger logs that will keep a fire burning happily for hours.
- Keep it contained. Don’t build a bonfire. It’s dangerous and it will use up your fuel too quickly. If you want a bonfire, find a field to build that and use these same precautions on a bigger scale. But keep big fires out of the middle of camp.
You should be thinking about your camp fire needs even before you leave to go camping. Not all public camping grounds have loose wood for you to burn. So find out if they allow you to harvest wood from the park. If not, bring your own from home or buy it on the way to the camp out. Also be careful to keep your firewood dry. You can keep it in the vehicles or under them overnight if you think you will have rain that will soak your wood and make it much more difficult to light your morning camp fire. Another good trick is to take a tarp just for fire wood. You can gather extra fire wood early in the camp out and put it under the tarp to keep it dry should it rain in the night.
By thinking ahead and learning the tricks of the trade for building camp fires, you are sure to be the hero of the camp out because you know how to build and take care of the fire. Don’t forget your safety rules in putting out the fire before going to bed and before leaving your camp out for home. Be responsible about fire so everyone will come home safe and with lots of good memories. And your mature approach to your camp fires will keep the camp sites and forests safe so we can all enjoy them next year and for many years to come.