There’s really nothing like a summer campfire! Winding down the day with treats over a fire as the air begins to cool, or maybe even having a lunchtime cookout on a camping trip, or day out at a public beach with fire pits available. We have all heard Smokey the Bear’s trademark slogan “Only you can prevent forest fires!”, but other than having water available, what do we need to do to have a safe campfire day on the first Saturday in August?
Basic Campfire Safety
First, of course, is to know the rules! If your campground or national or state/provincial park prohibits campfires or has a ban in effect—often due to dry and hot weather conditions—do not have a fire. Prohibitions on fires are put in place for good reason, and beyond the environmental damage that could occur, you could also face a fine or other legal penalties for having a fire in a prohibited space! Don’t risk it!
Use a fire pit or ring if available, and ensure it is in a safe place far away from any structures or trees, bushes and brush. If one is not available, choose a space at least 15 feet from anything flammable —be it bushes, low hanging branches, tents, or buildings. Ensure you are also far away from any fuels, such as camp stoves, gas or propane tanks, that could ignite and explode if exposed to a spark. A sandy or damp area is good for containing errant sparks.
Ensure water and/or a fire extinguisher are nearby.
Put out your fire properly. The best way to extinguish a camp fire is to remember these steps: drown (the fire with water), stir, drown again, and feel.  There should be no burning embers left in the ring when you leave your site, as they could reignite.
In 2017, there were 63,646 forest fires in the US caused by humans which burned down nearly 5 million acres. [1,2]
Safety for kids and pets
Children need to be kept away from fires, ensure they are supervised at all times. For young children or those with disabilities affecting their understanding or regard for safety, ensure they are far away from fires or are holding the hand of an adult when nearby to keep them from getting too close. Older children should be taught how to be cautious around forest fires, and how to respond to errant sparks or emergencies.
The safest place for pets is indoors during a campfire or cookout, but if they are outside, they should be kept far back from fires and areas sparks may fly. Keeping dogs on tie-downs away from the fire area may be necessary to keep them safe.
Lung health problems and fires
For people with lung diseases like asthma, COPD or cystic fibrosis, it may be unsafe to spend time around the smoke of a campfire. Your doctor will be able to provide advice that is right for you—in some cases, you may be able to take medication to enjoy a campfire safely. Wear a lung disease medical ID bracelet or necklace if you have medical problems affecting your lungs.
To learn more about campfire safety, visit Smokey the Bear’s website for safety tips for all ages, and resources for teaching and fire prevention professionals.