Memorial Day Weekend is upon us, the beginning of summer and the start of camping season. And when you think of camping, what image comes to mind? Undoubtedly a campfire is somewhere in the mix. What a cozy, earthy and primal experience it is, smelling and being warmed by burning wood while outdoors. The simple pleasure of a campfire, however, can become a hazardous one for you and cause long-lasting damage to your campsite if some green camping sense isn’t applied.
Here are some campfire tips to keep you safe and minimize your impact on the Earth:
1. Follow the rules. Every state and national park or forest has fire restrictions. Be sure to contact the park ranger’s office to learn about any fire restrictions in place at the time you are camping. Many camps require that you get a campfire permit (often at no charge) to ensure you understand the restrictions and to help them track fires in the park.
2. Location, location, location! Choose a level, open location away from dry grass, bushes or overhanging branches. If one is not already there, build a fire ring out of stones to contain your fire. Pile soil around the edge of your circle. Also avoid starting campfires at the base of steep hills; fire travels uphill quickly. There should be a 10-foot circle around your fire area clear of anything that might easily ignite (your tent and supplies, pine needles, dry grass, etc.).
3. Respect the habitat. Take your time (a 15-minute walk) when gathering wood so as to spread your impact over a larger area. Use only dead and fallen branches that you can break manually (even for those marshmallow roasting sticks). Store all wood well away from the fire and upwind to avoid accidental ignition.
4. Build a campfire to the size you need. Unnecessarily big, roaring fires invite more hazards. Pack enough clothing for cool evenings in order to help stay warm without a giant fire.
5. Don’t burn plastic, metals or woods that have been treated with chemicals in order to avoid air pollution.
6. Never leave fire unattended, not even for a few minutes.
7. Do not leave children or pets near fire alone.
8. Keep a water- or sand-filled bucket nearby in case of emergency.
9. At least half an hour before leaving your campsite, make sure your fire is completely out. After the fire has died down, pour water over the ashes and then smother the ashes with dirt. Mix the ashes, water and dirt until all of the embers have died. Be sure to soak the ring of stones as well to make sure you get hidden embers.
10. Redistribute any unused wood to leave the area closer to how you found it.