Campfire Safety: Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Make Smokey The Bear Proud

Spring has sprung which means camping season is almost here. And there is nothing quite like sitting around a campfire, devouring good food, and swapping stories after a day of adventure. But having a campfire comes with responsibility—recent statistic show that almost 90% of wildfires are caused by humans, many by poorly managed campfires. Don’t be this person.

Next time you are out, practice some basic campfire safety and you’ll be free to enjoy the serenity of glowing embers (and the smell of wood smoke on your clothes and hair for days).


So what is the safest way to build a campfire if you aren’t at an established campground with a fire pit that’s already constructed? The first thing you want to do is select an open location away from trees, logs, brush, or other possible fuel for the fire. You need at least five feet between the edge of the fire and any flammable objects—this includes trees, tents, and even cars.

If you can, find a patch of dirt or natural soil on which to build your fire. Taking care not to unnecessarily damage fragile landscape—scrape away any grass, leaves or needles. Scoop a depression in the center of the cleared area and build a ring of rocks around it.


Never leave your fire unattended. Sparks can fly as far as a mile (with the right wind). A dozen feet into a nearby tree is child’s play for fire. You always want to extinguish the blaze completely before heading into your tent at night or leaving the area entirely.

Sparks can fly as far as a mile (with the right wind).

Putting The Fire Out

So how do you make sure your fire is completely out? The California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (CWCG) recommends you use the “drown, stir, and feel” method. Drown the fire with water, then stir around the fire area with your shovel or stick to ensure all embers and remaining ash get soaked. Feel the area with the back of your hand to test whether anything is still smoldering—be careful of course.

As Smokey the Bear says, “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”

If you have chunks of woods and coals left in the fire, turn them over and wet all sides. Throw some dirt or sand on the fire and mix in thoroughly to fully smother any remaining embers.

You can learn more about fire safety here.

Before you camp, be sure to check campfire rules in your state. For example, in California, you need a permit to have an open campfire when not in an established campground and in some areas it’s not legal to have a fire at all. If unsure, check in with the local ranger station before heading out.