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NEWS | April 24, 2013

Camping fire safety tips

By Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Shockley 628th Civil Engineer Squadron

Camping and campfires go hand in hand. It is difficult to imagine camping without building a fire to roast marshmallows and to share ghost stories. However, without proper fire safety your campfire could turn your camping trip into a weekend to remember for all the wrong reasons. Here are simple rules to follow to help ensure you have a great experience and not a bad one:

Select a safe location for your campfire. Campground managers normally select the safest location to build fires, so most established campgrounds already have fire rings in place. The fire ring contains sparks and prevents your fire from spreading. If your campfire does not have a ring, you will need to select an area to construct your own.

To select an effective fire ring area, find a location that is downwind from your camping area. Ensure your pit is at least five feet away from your tent/trailer and other combustible material. Verify the area is away from trees, brushes, logs, stumps, overhanging branches, dry grass, forest debris and any other flammable/combustible items. If your campsite has an existing fire ring, check to see if it meets the above criteria. The landscape around your campsite could have changed since the fire ring was initially built.

Prepare your campfire area. Once you have chosen where to build your campfire, you need to ensure that the area is completely clear of anything that could ignite. It is best to clear the ground down to the soil within a five foot radius of your fire pit. Surrounding twigs and dry leaves could easily catch fire from a floating spark. Next, dig a shallow pit about two feet across and encircle this pit with a ring of medium sized rocks. These rocks should be placed snuggly together without any gaps where sparks could fly through. Remove any small, loose stones from the pit that could potentially explode from the heat of the fire.

Before you begin building your campfire, make sure you have equipment on hand to extinguish your fire. You will need a large bucket of water and a shovel. Keep these things close enough to your fire pit so they are quickly accessible in case of an emergency. If the ground around your campsite is too hard to shovel, keep a bucket of sand or dirt nearby.

Safely ignite your campfire. Avoid using gasoline, lighter fluid or other chemicals to start your fire. These fuels are dangerous to use in the wilderness. They can unexpectedly flare up and catch your clothing on fire. Instead, use a lighter or match to ignite your kindling. Keep your camp fire small, a bonfire is not necessary and can become dangerous. Resist the temptation and put safety first. A large fire will emit more potentially hazardous sparks. These sparks from a large fire are capable of drifting further away than sparks from a small fire. Also it is more difficult to extinguish a large fire versus a small camp fire.

Maintain a safe campfire. While your campfire is burning, never leave it unattended. Despite other safety precautions, your campfire could spread from your fire pit. You need to be around to ensure your campfire doesn't spread. Be careful of what you burn in your campfire. Try to stick to manageable pieces of firewood that easily fit within your fire pit. You should never burn large logs that stick out past your fire ring area.

Properly extinguish your campfire. Extinguish your campfire prior to going to bed or leaving your campsite. In order to safely extinguish your camp fire, douse the flames by pouring water on the fire. There will still be hot embers that could continue to smolder for hours so stir the coals and add more water. To ensure the fire is completely extinguished, cover the coals with dirt or sand.

Sometimes it's simply not safe to have a campfire. If the forest is too dry and the fire danger is high, there may be a ban on campfires. Respect these bans as they are for your own safety. Strong winds make for dangerous campfire conditions too. So use your best judgment and do what you can to protect yourself and fellow campers.

It is far too easy for a campfire to spread and get out of control. It is your responsibility to protect your campsite and others from your campfire. Follow these simple campfire safety rules in order to ensure everyone has a great camping experience and comes home safe and sound. Please stay fire safe!

If there are any questions or comments, contact the Fire Prevention Office at 963-3121 on the Air Base or 764-7889 on the Weapon Station.