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Deciding Whether You Need a Fire

Ask yourself the following questions.

  • What's the fire danger for this time of year and this area?
  • Are there restrictions that make a fire illegal?
  • Is there enough wood so that its removal will not damage the immediate area?
  • Does your group know the appropriate way to build a fire that will leave no impact on the area? (The good rule of thumb is to build fires in existing fire rings.)

Selecting a Good Fire Site

  • Build your fire where its heat will radiate into the shelter but not so close that flames could block your exit. Your sleeping area should be located between the shelter wall and the fire.
  • Where there is snow on the ground, build the fire on a platform of green logs or rocks.
  • If the terrain is dry, clear a patch of bare dirt to avoid starting a grass or forest fire.
  • Gather everything you need before starting the fire. Place fuel ranging from small twigs to fuel logs so that it's convenient to the fire site.
  • Collect more fuel than you think you can use.
  • Have material for extinguishing the fire, such as water, snow, or dirt, nearby.

Practicing Responsible Fire Safety

  • Make sure everyone in your group practices responsible fire safety.
    • Build campfires only in safe proximity to your shelter and away from heavy fuels such as logs or brush. Consider wind direction in choosing a location for the fire.
    • Never leave a fire unattended.
    • Teach everyone how to do the “cold-out” test described in “Extinguishing the Fire.”
  • Always fully extinguish any fire with water or snow before leaving your camp.

Building the Fire

  • Pile fine twigs, grass, or bark shavings loosely as a base. If you can't find dry kindling, remove bark from trees. Then use your knife to shave dry wood from the inside of the bark.
  • Place slightly larger sticks on the starter material until you have a pile about 10 inches high.
  • If there's no breeze, light the kindling in the middle of the base. If there is a breeze, light one end of the kindling so that the flame will be blown toward the rest of the fuel.
  • As the kindling lights and the flames spread to the larger twigs, slowly add more wood to the blaze. Add larger pieces as the fire grows. A large fire will throw more heat and be easier to maintain.

Extinguishing the Fire

  • Near the end of the fire, stop adding fuel. Add small, singed bits of wood to the fire to use them up.
  • Allow the fire to burn fully to white ash. Extinguish it with water or snow.
  • Perform a “cold-out” test. When you are certain that the fire is out, use your fingers to feel through the cold ash.
  • Disperse the ash remains over the area. If necessary to avoid polluting sources of water, such as a river, take the ash with you in your trash pack to dispose of when you return home.
A tepee of sticks and a lit match for starting a campfire
Hand testing that fire is completely out

A “cold-out” test ensures that a fire is completely out.

  • Unit 5 of 6
  • Topic 3 of 4
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