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Take care with campfires

By Chris Dougherty
Chris Dougherty is a certified RV technician and former professional fireman. Here is an article he wrote about campfire safety while he was serving as RVtravel.com’s technical editor.

Campfire safety is something I think most RVers are cognizant of but, as I have seen a number of burned awnings over the years, it’s worth mentioning here.

First, many wildfires are started by careless campers. Most campgrounds, but not all, that allow campfires will have a pit situated properly on the campsite. But as many of us like to take our RVs into more primitive locations, picking and preparing your campfire spot is essential.

DO NOT build a fire at a site in hazardous, dry conditions.
DO NOT build a fire if the campground, area or event rules prohibit campfires.
FIND OUT if the campground has an existing fire ring or fire pit. If there is not an existing fire pit and pits are allowed, look for a site that is at least 15 feet away from the RV, shrubs, trees or other flammable objects. Also beware of low-hanging branches overhead.

Some campsites have unsuitable pits or may not offer pre-made pits at all. If this is the case:

Choose a spot that’s downwind, protected from wind gusts, and at least 15 feet from your RV.
Clear a 10-foot diameter area around the site. Remove any grass, twigs, leaves and firewood. Also make sure there aren’t any tree limbs or flammable objects hanging overhead.
Dig a pit in the dirt, about a foot deep.
Circle the pit with rocks.
Your campfire pit is built and ready for preparation!

Before you start your campfire, you need to prepare your pit:

Fill the pit with small pieces of dry wood; never rip or cut branches from living trees.
Place your unused firewood upwind and away from the fire.
Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby.

As you’re enjoying your campfire, remember these safety tips:

Once you have a strong fire going, add larger pieces of dry wood to keep it burning steadily.
Keep your fire to a manageable size.
Make sure children and pets are supervised when near the fire.
Never leave your campfire unattended.
Never cut live trees or branches from live trees.

When you’re ready to put out your fire and call it a night, follow these guidelines:

Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible.
Pour lots of water on the fire; drown ALL embers, not just the red ones.
Pour until hissing sound stops.
Stir the campfire ashes and embers with a shovel.
Scrape the sticks and logs to remove any embers.
Stir and make sure everything is wet and cold to the touch.

If you do not have water, use dirt. Mix enough dirt or sand with the embers. Continue adding and stirring until all material is cool. Remember: Do NOT bury the fire as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire.

REMEMBER: If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave!

Don’t burn dangerous things!

Never burn aerosol cans or pressurized containers—they may explode.
Never put glass in the fire pit. Glass does not melt away, it only heats up and shatters. Broken slivers of glass are dangerous.
Aluminum cans do not burn. In fact, the aluminum only breaks down into smaller pieces. Inhaling aluminum dust can be harmful to your lungs.

For more information on preventing wildfires, visit smokeybear.com.

##RVDT1792

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Brad Wartman
3 months ago

Hi All,

We keep a “solar shower” bag that we picked up at a garage sale for $1 filled with water along with to use in putting the fire out at the end of the night and in case of emergency. The sprayer end on the shower makes it handy to disperse the water on the fire. In addition the collapsible shovel we use can also be used as a pickaxe, quite helpful in digging out those last embers ;-).

Sharon L Boehmer
3 months ago

I am not a big campfire person, but its nice to see others who take advantage of it when appropriate. However, please make sure it is completely out when you leave your site. I was at a campground this summer and there were a group of campers for the weekend, nice enough folks. The site next to us (street side and up wind) was the gathering place, but when they pulled out on Sunday morning, fire was left blazing away. Are you kidding me? Another of the group left 10 min later and did not put it out either! It bothered me so much, I put it out myself, 4 buckets of water, and while I was pouring, the 2nd camper passed by on the road and just looked at me. I will never forget this, I still shake my head.

Wolfe
3 months ago

I think you downplayed the inappropriate firepit component. There have been many many sites where the pit is right on the edge of the pad, distinctly under the awning. I wouldn’t dare light a fire in their fire pit and provide my own much further from the RV. Last year i changed to a smokeless pit on legs, so i don’t leave a scorched circle where I moved to.

Claude Denton
6 months ago

Use caution when using paper of any kind for a fire starter, When it burns paper grows wings and will fly anywhere the wind blows. yikes.

Wolfe
3 months ago
Reply to  Claude Denton

Good reminder. I’ve seen people use tissue because it’s so easy to light and then watched the flying lantern effect.

I tend to use a blowtorch sometimes assisted by a >small< splash of generator fuel – people think i'm the crazy one but my fire starts safely and instantly every time.