Hiking, picnicking and camping are fine ways to introduce children to campfire safety. Some guidelines are obvious to most adults, but children don’t always realize how quickly a spark can become a deadly blaze. Habits learned early will help keep young campers out of danger and maintain natural spaces for those who follow.
Before setting up a campfire, ensure that your local park authority has not issued any wildfire alerts or warnings. Building a fire in dry conditions can be dangerous because even the smallest twig can ignite if hit by a spark or hot coal. The U.S. Forest Service recommends looking for an existing fire pit or ring surrounded by stones. If you can’t find one, find a space about 15 feet away from brush, tents and any other flammable material and dig a pit at least 1 foot in depth. Surround the pit with large rocks and stack any wood upwind of the fire.
Once you have your pit set up, fill it with smaller pieces of dry wood or kindling. According to Smokeybear.com, campers should not tear branches off trees and bushes, but find dead wood on the ground or bring in your own firewood that is clear of insects. Have a bucket of water and a shovel near the campfire. When you have your fire pit filled with wood, use a lighter or match to light the fire. Fully extinguish the match with water when you are done.
The warmth, light and smells of an outdoor campfire make it an especially memorable activity for children. Anyone who has ever told ghost stories or roasted marshmallows outdoors knows how much fun it can be. While you enjoy the campfire, always keep watch over the site and never let children alone while the fire is burning. Use long sticks or skewers to roast frankfurters or marshmallows. Do not allow any running or roughhousing near the fire.
Fully extinguishing your campfire is critical to keeping your family and campsite safe. According to U.S. Forest Service safety guidelines, fires should be burned down to ash before dousing them with a large amount of water. Stir the water and ash together until the fire has fully cooled. If you still feel heat after one dousing, do it again until the ashes are cool to the touch. The Forest Service stresses that fires should never be buried, because they can continue to burn underground and eventually come back to the surface. When the fire is fully out, leave the campsite completely clean and ready for the next family to enjoy.
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