Whether used for heat, cooking or atmosphere, care must be taken when building, burning and extinguishing fires. Almost half of all wildfires are caused by human error, and fire accidents can almost always be avoided with common sense and a few simple precautions.

When building a campfire, bigger is not necessarily better. The smaller the fire, the easier it is to contain. If the campsite has fire pits, rake through the ash and coals to make sure no explosive hazards like batteries or aerosol cans have been buried. If a fire pit is not available, make one.

Make sure the campfire is a safe distance from tents, dry grass, debris, and overhanging branches, and never leave the campfire unattended. Also ensure that any camp stoves and fuel bottles are several feet away. Clear any debris from an 8- to 10-foot radius around the campfire. Always keep a good supply of water nearby to douse the fire when done using it. Also, keep a shovel close by in case the fire gets out of control.

When extinguishing a fire, completely saturate it with water. As an added precaution, suffocate the fire by shoveling dirt onto the embers. Repeat this as many times as necessary to ensure the fire is out. If the fire gets out of control and can’t be extinguished, leave the area immediately and call for help—the campers’ safety comes first.

The possibility of fire accidents can be kept to a minimum by following some basic safety guidelines:

  • If fuel spills while filling a lantern or heater, move to another spot before lighting.
  • Never light a heater or lantern in a tent.
  • Do not put cigars or cigarettes out in dry or brushy areas
  • Cigarettes and matches should be placed into the burning fire, not thrown carelessly about.
  • Double-check the campfire to make sure all burning ashes and logs have been put out.
  • Briefly touch the logs with your bare hands to ensure they are cool and completely extinguished.

    During periods of increased fire danger such as hot, windy and very dry conditions, hot mufflers in vehicles can ignite dry grass and cause a wildfire. Drive only on cleared, maintained roads and pathways.