Monday, September 26, 2022


Most wildfires are human caused: Keep your campfire manageable

Here’s a question from a reader of about boondocking. 

Hi Bob,
We are coming from the New England area for a two-month-long camping trip to the West and are concerned about what we read about the dry, highly combustible forest lands we intend to visit. Never having to be too concerned about wildfires, we feel that we are not properly prepared for such dry conditions, and especially when we build a campfire (which we really look forward to). Can you give us some helpful hints on campfire safety? Thanks. —Colleen and  Frank

Hi Colleen and Frank,
Last night on the evening news (in the West where I live) the reporter posed the question, “What percentage of wildfires are started by humans?” The answer was 85% – 90%. That is an astounding figure, so you are right to be concerned when camping, especially when boondocking where safe iron fire rings are not provided.

The heat, low humidity, afternoon winds and lack of rainfall can produce summer conditions that can spawn disastrous wildfires that ravage forests and grasslands across the drier parts of the country. If you take that 85% to 90% figure seriously, as you should, then you won’t take any chances of starting such a conflagration with a poorly managed campfire.

If your campsite does not have an approved fire ring, use a spot where a fire has been previously built. If none is available, scrape all combustible material several feet away from the center of your intended fire. And look up – don’t build your fire under low-hanging branches. If rocks are available, build a fire ring around your fire, or if not, dig a shallow hole to contain your fire’s embers.

Keep a bucket of water nearby to put out any errant spark that may escape, and add a folding or compact shovel to your RV tool kit to quickly throw dirt on smoldering coals or to scrape dry tinder away from around your fire pit. Some national forests will require that all campers and boondockers have these items (and sometimes a fire permit, which is free) if you plan to build a campfire outside of an approved fire ring.  And keep your fire a manageable size. There is no need to build a blazing inferno. A nice, cozy, small fire is sufficient for most needs.

And remember, never leave your fire unattended. Also, pour water over the coals and feel for hot spots to assure the fire is completely dead when going to bed or leaving the campsite – whether for a hike or when moving on. A sudden wind can quickly rekindle a roaring blaze from even the smallest spark.

Also keep in mind that there are many fire restrictions already in place. Check for them where you’re planning on camping. And here is a handy government website of current wildfires in the U.S.: InciWeb: Incident Information System.

As Smokey Bear says, “Only YOU can prevent wildfires.”

Read more about boondocking at my BoondockBob’s Blog.
Check out my Kindle e-books about boondocking at Amazon.

Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) .



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4 years ago

I see folks building campfires when it’s 80 degrees outside, and they never even cook on it. I don’t get it.

F. Gisler
4 years ago

We live in California and camp frequently during the summer. We gave up on wood campfires a few years ago and now enjoy our evening gathering around a propane fueled campfire pit/bowl. Best move ever! It easily attaches to the propane tank we also use for our gas cooking grill.

No more SMOKE!
Keeps you cozy warm
No need to bring or buy fire wood (no gathering allowed)
Can be turned down to a low setting
When it’s off, it’s off and it cools quickly
Campgrounds will allow these when they have a wood fire ban in place
Shipped by Amazon right to your door

4 years ago

I am an experienced and safe fire builder, but I will not ever build a one when fire danger conditions are high, and may never build one again since I plan to buy a propane firepit instead, which are much safer. But I also would never use it in dry conditions.

But what worries me is that I like to boondock in remote places. I’m very worried about the careless campers who don’t know how to manage a fire or who have no regard for others or the forest. I don’t know any way to really protect myself if I wake up in the middle of the night to a forest fire nearby and have to get out down a long, bumpy road to safety. Any suggestions, other than “Don’t go there!”?

Sam Lunt
4 years ago

This recently from the national forest where the original Smokey the Bear was born. From the article….“I have a full staff in fire and fire prevention,” she said. “They found 18 abandoned campfires on Easter weekend. That blows me away, and I’m told it was a low number.”

4 years ago

Saw this sign at a National Forest campground near Crater Lake last week: “If you light it, be prepared to fight it”

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