A majority of people in my life don’t know this about me, yet here I am putting it on the internet. When I was 2 years old, I was camping with my family in the desert when I fell into our campfire. The fire was down to smoldering embers and I was only in for a minute but that minute was enough to cause serious damage to my left ear and leave a massive scar on my left shoulder. I had multiple surgeries throughout my youth, including several skin grafts.
My left ear is my biggest insecurity. It is scarred and disfigured and after all these years, since it was such a traumatic injury, still causes me pain. I don’t wear my hair up and I have only told a handful of people about the accident because truthfully, I am still healing. Even as I type this, my heart is racing.
I am writing this as an attempt to heal. I don’t want to feel shame about it anymore. I am also sharing this because for obvious reasons, I am adamant about campfire safety.
I know I am not alone in hearing horrific stories about campfire accidents. Whether it was an accident like mine or a night of fun that resulted in the destruction of a national forest.
With peak camping season coming up, I wanted to go over a couple of campfire safety tips.
Essential campfire safety tips
1. Follow the rules
Before you start a fire, you need to know the fire regulations of your campground or wilderness area. Pay attention to posted signs and if you have any questions, check the ranger’s station for current campfire regulations.
I’ve had to evacuate a campsite before because of a wildfire that got too close and it was terrifying. I also witnessed campers that built a fire during a fire ban and the forest rangers promptly showed up and gave them all tickets. Not only were they risking their safety and the safety of everyone around them by having a fire during a ban, but they were also at high risk for starting a wildfire that could easily destroy half the state. Fire rules are there for a reason – follow them.
2. Use the pit
Most campgrounds have a designated fire pit – this is the only place you should build a campfire to reduce your footprint on the wilderness.
If you are in a remote area and experienced in building a proper and safe fire pit, be sure you are in an open area away from overhanging branches or other hazards that could catch on fire. After digging your pit, circle it with rocks and clear everything within a ten-foot radius around the pit.
3. Keep water and a shovel close by
You shouldn’t start a campfire if you don’t have an abundance of water and a shovel. The water can be used if and runaway flames occur and the shovel can be used to throw dirt or sand on any flames that leave your fire ring.
4. Never leave a fire unattended
When you are done with your fire, you need to extinguish it properly. A small breeze can spread fire quicker than you can imagine. Before you go to bed or walk off for a quick hike, your campfire should be completely extinguished.
When you are done with your campfire, douse it with water and stir the ashes with your shovel until the fire is completely out. Make sure it’s cold before leaving the fire pit.
5. Use local firewood
Using local wood prevents foreign insects and diseases from being introduced to the local environment. Campgrounds often sell firewood but to save some money, we like to stop at local gas stations and grocery stores to pick up a bundle on our way to our site.
How to build a safe campfire
I’ve been camping since I was a baby and from a very young age, my parents were adamant that I knew how to build a campfire. To this day, it’s one of my favorite things to do! Here are my fire-building tips:
- Start with things that burn easily like newspaper, cardboard (I like to use the boxes our beer came in), or my personal favorite: a DIY fire starter (see below).
- Once you have your base, create a teepee shape with smaller sticks and twigs. This is where you can light your fire!
- Once your fire starts, slowly add larger pieces of wood to add to your “teepee”.
That’s it! Remember, your fire doesn’t have to be huge. A small fire will generate more than enough heat to warm up your feet and toast your marshmallows.
DIY fire starter
My mom taught me this trick and it always comes in handy! All you need to make a fire starter is a toilet paper roll and dryer lint. It’s free, easy to make and is a great base to a campfire.
I hope this article was helpful and served as a good reminder as to how destructive a campfire can be. Please be safe, friends! Let me know if you have any questions!