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Decide whether you really need a fire. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • What’s the fire danger for this time of year and this area?
  • Are there restrictions that make a fire illegal? For instance, is there a fire warning due to wind or drought that could result in wildfires?
  • Is there enough wood so that its removal will not damage the immediate area?
  • Do you know the appropriate way to build a fire that will leave no impact on the area? (The good rule of thumb is to build fires in existing fire rings.)

If you decide to build a fire:

  • If there is snow on the ground, build the fire on a platform of green logs or rocks. If the terrain is dry, clear a patch of bare dirt to avoid starting a grass or forest fire.
  • Collect more fuel than you think you can use.
  • Pile fine twigs, grass, or bark shavings loosely as a base. If you can’t find dry kindling, shave dry wood from the inside of tree bark.
  • Place slightly larger sticks on the starter material until you have a pile about 10 inches high.
  • Light the kindling in the middle of the base. If there is a breeze, light one end of the kindling so that the flame will be blown toward the rest of the fuel. As the flames spread to the larger twigs, slowly add more wood to the blaze.
  • Make sure everyone in your group practices responsible fire safety.
    • Build campfires away from tents and away from heavy fuels such as logs or brush. Consider wind direction in choosing a location for the fire.
    • Never leave a fire unattended.

When it’s time to put out a fire:

  • Near the end of the fire, stop adding fuel. Add small, singed bits of wood to the fire to use them up.
  • Allow the fire to burn fully to white ash. Then extinguish it with water.
  • Carry out a “cold-out” test by using your hands to feel through the cold, wet ash to make certain the fire is out.
  • Disperse the ash remains over the area. If necessary to avoid polluting sources of water such as a river, take the ash with you in your trash pack to dispose of when you return home.
A tepee of sticks and a lit match for starting a campfire
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