One of the most pleasurable aspects of camping is being sat around the campfire at the end of the day enjoying a hearty meal and sharing good conversation and laughter with others.
Choosing a Location
A suitable location for a campfire is very important. On officially designated campsites, these areas are usually designated for you but in the wilderness, it may be up to you to decide where to build a fire. It’s always important to check out the rules and regulations concerning where you can build a fire from a park ranger or other official if a fire setting is not obvious.
If you have to choose where you build your campfire, you should try to ensure that it’s situated somewhere with a natural windbreak to protect it from windy conditions. You should choose an area which is away from trees and bushes and any overhanging branches and you should never build your fire to close to a rock(s) or a cliff face where it can scorch the natural environment. If a fire ring is provided, use it but if not, make one with stones so that you can contain the ash. Also, remember to keep the firewood away from the fire area when it’s not being used. It is advisable NOT to light fires on peat covered countryside.
Firewood can often be gathered from the natural environment but it is important to be aware of any restrictions which might be in place, particularly if you are camping in a National Park. If you are permitted to collect wood from your campsite surroundings, ensure you only collect fallen branches and twigs – you must never take or cut wood from standing, living trees. It’s always recommended to take some wood with you before you travel, in case there is little to collect when you get there and the campsite shop (if there is one) doesn’t have any.
Building the Fire
For a fire to burn properly, it needs three elements – fuel, heat and air and three types of wood. Firstly, you need tinder. This can consist of small twigs, dry leaves, wood shavings, pine needles or paper. Then, you need kindling, i.e. small sticks and finally, the firewood which are the larger pieces of wood that keep the fire burning. These pieces should be smallish at first then the size can be increased once the fire is burning well.
There are several methods of constructing the fire. The tepee or criss-cross style are popular as they allow the air to circulate freely and the fire to build slowly.
Beginning with the tinder, gather up a small heap of dry leaves, twigs, wood shavings or loosely screwed up newspaper in the centre of the fire ring. Either lay the kindling in a criss-cross pattern lightly over the tinder or layer it around in a tepee shape. You can use several layers but you need to ensure that you don’t lay it too thick as the air needs to circulate for the fire to burn. A small gap should be left at the base of the structure for the match to light the tinder. Lighting at the base is best as fire burns upwards.
Once the fire’s lit, the interior layers will burn freely and you can continue to add replacement layers until the fire is well alight. At that stage, you can start adding the ‘fuel’, i.e. the larger pieces of wood. Although safety should be your first priority, you should attempt to place the logs on in a similar shape and style to the tinder and kindling as opposed to simply throwing large logs at the fire as this can hinder its progress. Adding the proper sized wood at timed intervals will keep the fire burning well. Some useful tips are to keep a lighter handy in case your matches get wet. Alternatively, you can buy waterproof matches but if you only have regular ones, try to store them in a waterproof container.
Never leave your fire unattended or allow it to grow into a bonfire and don’t let children go too close to the fire or leave them to attend it unsupervised by an adult. Don’t try to build your fire in extremely windy conditions or build your fire on an upward slope as fire travels uphill fast and this is made worse by a strong wind. Unless absolutely necessary, you should try to avoid using lighter fluids if possible and you should never throw plastics, glass or aluminium cans or foil into the fire as this can be very messy to clean up.
Extinguishing Your Fire
Firstly, you should ensure your fire is fully extinguished before you go off to sleep. Many campers have put themselves in danger by thinking the fire has been fully put out because there were no visible flames. This can be dangerous as, although the flames may have stopped burning, the coals (kindling) underneath could still be hot. Pour water over the coals once they have died down and stir round and mix in some earth until you’re absolutely certain that the fire is completely out. Careless campers are often the cause of wild fires breaking out so it is extremely important to ensure that your fire is kept under control when active and fully extinguished before you leave the site and remember to always leave the campsite as you found it, disposing of any rubbish or taking it with you.
Fire bans are put in place to protect an already damaged environment or one which is ‘at risk’ and it is essential that any prohibitions and/or restrictions are respected. If you are at an official campsite, you will be made aware of any restrictions. However, even if you camp in a remote area, ensure that you keep an eye out for any signs or warnings that are displayed or contact the relevant authority before you go.
By following the above procedures, you can ensure that you’ll have a rewarding camping experience made even more special because of your campfire memories.