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A Guide To Campfire Safety

Setting Up & Putting Out Campfires

There’s something magical about the crackling embers and dancing flames of a campfire that has enchanted people for millennia. But while campfires are fun and keep you warm, they’re also a leading cause of wildfires. According to the National Forest Service, 9 out of every 10 forest fires are human-caused, which is why we encourage following proper fire safety guidelines—especially in the areas impacted by the extended drought.  Below are a few ways that you can make sure to protect the landscape and yourself throughout the fire season. 

Know Your Local Fire Restrictions

Cities, states, counties, parks, and a number of other governing bodies decide where and when fires are permitted. It’s up to you to research and know the most up-to-date regulations. As of June 2021, over 95% of our home state of Utah is under some sort of fire restriction ordinance.  This applies to fireworks, as well as to open fires, in some cases even those in your backyard. So if you were planning on cooking a meal over a backcountry fire, you’d be out of luck. Before stacking those logs in the firepit, make sure you look up and are ready to follow any restrictions and bans that apply to your area.

Assess Your Fire’s Potential For Damage

If your area doesn’t have any bans or restrictions and you decide to make a fire, we encourage you to step back and think before striking a match. If something you’re doing goes wrong, what damage could a fire do? What precautions do you need to take before lighting a fire? Do you have cell reception and nearby water access? Will someone always have eyes on the flames? Simply assessing the situation, and knowing your surroundings can help in case of an emergency.

Minimize Your Campfire’s Impact

Who doesn’t love sitting next to a roaring fire? As fun as big fires can be, we encourage minimizing or, if possible, neutralizing the impact left by your flame—which means making a smaller, more manageable-sized fire and using an established pit. Take the proper steps to ensure your flame does little to no damage to the surrounding area, and once extinguished, will leave no trace. In many national forests and recreation areas, it’s required to use only established fire pits. In others, you may be able to use a portable fire pan or pit. 

Extinguish The Fire Completely

Putting a fire out can be tricky, but it’s vitally important that all your embers are completely smothered before you walk away. Once your flame dies down, let the hot coals cool off. Don’t leave the fire unattended before dousing the coals and stirring the ashes. Repeat this process until all the coals are cold. 

Some say that throwing dirt or sand on top of the fire is a quick and easy way to put a fire out—this isn’t always true. Sand and dirt can sometimes insulate the embers, keeping them hot until the wind blows the dirt off. Use water to fully extinguish your fire. If you made your own fire pit, once your fire is out, spread the ashes and return your fire ring rocks to where you found them.

Report Active Wildfires

While you’re camping or backpacking, make sure you report any wildfires you come across—or campfires in places where having one is illegal. Drifting smoke can travel a great distance, so reporting should be based on a defined column of smoke. The sooner a fire is caught, the better chances firefighters have to contain it. In areas with controlled burns in progress, there will be signage to indicate 

Further Resources

For more information on campfire safety and wildfire prevention, check out the sites below:

Bureau of Land Management State by State Fire Restrictions

National Park Service Campfire Information

Wildfire Prevention Tips

Smokey the Bear’s Campfire Safety Tips

InciWeb Current Fire Reporting

National Interagency Fire Center

Utah Wildfire Prevention