Originally Published in the July 1990 issue of The Outfitter Magazine.
Most people believe they already know how to build a safe campfire. Unfortunately, the fact and figures prove otherwise. On average, more than 200 forest fires are caused each year by campfires that have either gotten out of control, or haven’t been put out properly. Interestingly, more than half of these fires are attributed to recreational fishermen.
Shore lunch fires are the most dangerous and require extra care because they are usually started after 10 or 11 a.m., when fires hazard is increased, and the control and extinguishing of these fires is much more difficult to manage.
The loss in terms of dollars from these wildfires is immense; thousands of hectares of trees that will never become lumber or pulp and paper products, along with millions of man-hours of labour that won’t be available to workers in related industries. Equally tragic is the loss in terms of natural beauty, wildlife and recreational areas. Most of this senseless waste could be avoided if everyone followed a few basic steps when using a campfire in the woods.
Is the campfire a good idea?
Is your campfire legal?
When forest fire danger is extremely high, or a number of fires are already burning in the area, the Ministry of Natural Resources may declare a Restricted Fire Zone. The area will be marked by orange and green sign, and announcements will be made on the radio and in to newspapers. When a Restricted Fire Zone is in effect, it is illegal to have a campfire for any reason, so make sure you’re not breaking the law when you light your fires.
Have you chosen the best site for your campfire?
If possible, build your campfires close to the water and keep a full container of water beside your fires. If you’re not near water, make sure your fire is away from dry grass, shrubs or overhanging trees.
Prepare the site. Build your fire on rock if possible, and if none is nearby, clear an area of 1 metre around your fire location by digging down to mineral soil. Don’t enclose your fire with stones. They can hide embers which might start a fire after you’ve gone.
A small fire is best for both warmth and cooking. Make sure you have all the wood you’ll need close at hand. Many fires become wildfires when left unattended while someone goes to look for more wood. In fact, never leave your fire unattended for any reason. It’s not only careless, but it’s also against the law.
The most important part of building a campfire is putting it out. Many forest fires are caused by campfires left smoldering. Daytime fires in low humidity are more difficult to extinguish. Drown the fire completely with water or cover it with mineral soil. When you think it’s out, stir the ashes to make sure there are no live embers, then drown it thoroughly again.