A Forest Ecologist Explains How To Build a Campfire

Autumn is undoubtedly the ideal season for camping, with crisp weather and stunning foliage. A campfire’s warm glow definitely sets the tone. Aside from s’mores and ghost stories, though, making a fire in the woods entails a great deal of responsibility.

We’re reminded that toying with fire is no laughing matter as wildfires rage throughout the western United States. It’s critical to know how to build a proper campfire when you’re a visitor in the woods—if flames are permitted at all.

Ed Smith, a forest ecologist and fire manager for The Nature Conservancy in California, is leading efforts to improve the quality and volume of forest restoration in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. One of the oldest factors utilised to keep a region’s health and biodiversity is fire. When left unchecked, however, fire destroys our virgin woods, devastates ecosystems, and, in certain situations, poses a threat to surrounding homes.

“The forest has evolved. They’ve amassed a lot more fuel and there are a lot more trees now than before. As a result, we’re surrounded by forests that are extremely flammable or dangerous “Smith explains. “We’re trying to connect the health of our ecosystems, our environment, and our human health through our work.”

Smith, an expert on all things fire, has some tips for making a campfire in the woods. Whether you’re trekking for weeks in the wilderness or vehicle camping with your pals for the weekend, fire safety is essential. Continue reading to learn how to build a campfire with the help of a forest ecologist at each step.

In the woods, how to make a forest-friendly campfire

1. Be aware of the rules.

Before venturing off the usual road, as with any outdoor adventure, do your study. Every campground, park, and trail system is different, and you should familiarise yourself with the rules regarding fire safety before leaving.

When camping on national forest areas in California, for example, you must get a permit to light a campfire. “You need a permit even if you’re cooking on a gas burner,” he says. “After filling out a few forms online and passing a test, you can print your own permit. It’s not a major deal, but it does assist to raise awareness about such rules.”

Campfires are prohibited in some regions. Period. Know the laws, observe them, and plan appropriately, whether you’re planning a weekend vacation to your local KOA or a two-week trek into the wilderness.

2. Make use of natural wood

It can be tempting to buy a bundle of firewood to bring with you if you’re car camping or have reserved a campsite. This, according to Smith, is a no-no since bringing firewood in from outside the area can introduce exotic species and tree-killing bugs that can affect the environment. “You don’t want to spread insects or viruses from one location to another,” Smith explains. “Use wood that comes from, or is close to, where you’ll be burning it.”

If you’re visiting a public campground, it’s likely that it will provide local firewood or sell it to you. Save yourself the trouble of hauling your own wood if you’re going into the backcountry. As kindling, use dry sticks, twigs, and leaves, and look for deadfall or larger logs to burn.

3. Stick to the fire rings that are already in place.

In most campgrounds, federal lands, and national parks, fire rings have already been constructed in defined areas. Smith claims that these assist limit the flames and embers to an area that is far enough away from dangerous organic materials from a safety standpoint.

The pre-built rings also help to reduce the chance of ash and embers remaining lighted in things like leaves and dirt, which can re-ignite a fire that has been purportedly extinguished. “Burn heaps that were torched in the fall have caused some forest fires. People drove away because the large burn heaps, which were 8 to 12 feet across, appeared to be out “Smith explains. During the winter, even if snow or rain falls on top of ignited burn piles, the embers can stay hot deep beneath the surface. “When the wind blows in the spring and it gets hot, the fire can escape, relight, and spread across the forest. As a result, it’s a serious concern, and the rings help control the ash.”

Stick to the rings that are already there if you want to be safe. If you don’t find a ring and have to make your own, Smith has some advice:

  • Clear a 10-foot radius around your fir:to ensure that stray flames and embers are maintained at a safe distance.
  • Everything flammable should be moved away from the fire’s edge: Smith advises looking for organic stuff like needles and leaf litter, which you’ll need to clear away from the ring’s edge, as well as obvious flammable items like tents and backpacks.
  • Hardwood should be burned: Hardwood (think oak, maple, and hickory) burns for a longer time despite being more difficult to fire. “They endure a long time,” Smith explains, “have nicer coals, and are tastier to cook on.”

4. Be inventive when it comes to cooking

When it comes to cooking, campfires aren’t just for aesthetics and comfort; they’re also a great way to prepare meals. Smith recommends having the necessary tools to prepare food over a fire if you are allowed to make a campfire and can do so safely. Cooking utensils such as a mesh or metal grate and cooking forks are essential for food handling.

If you can’t start a fire, don’t worry: Smith says there are plenty of packable options you can bring (just make sure you know what’s allowed and what’s not). “You may purchase a basic cookstove or get a gas grill that you can ignite and cook over infrared or direct heat,” he explains. “You can spend a lot of money on some of that glamping gear and still have a great time.”

Can’t start a fire? Here’s what you need for camp cooking:

$95.00 Coleman Gas Camping Stove

Coleman’s portable propane burner is a classic outdoor need, but it’s a tad large to bring out whether you’re vehicle camping or travelling to a campsite. Only a gas tank is required, but this bad boy folds out into a two-burner stove with push-button ignition and wind protection.

$65.00 Solo Stove Lite

The Solo Stove is one of the original portable cookstoves, and it’s small enough to fit in your backpack (it’s under a pound!) The Solo Stove uses sticks, twigs, and other biomass as fuel, creating a small flickering fire that may be used to boil water, heat meals, and more.

$395.00 Jetboil Genesis Base Camp 2 Burner System

The Jetboil is a powerful and portable small device, despite its higher price. It runs on propane, much like the Coleman. However, with a nested design that stacks all of its elements into a single, handy pack, it’s far more convenient and easier to carry.

$100.00 Gosun Solar Oven

There’s no need for gas, twigs, or biomass with the Gosun Solar Oven; all you need is the sun. It collects UV light to heat and prepare food on-the-go and weighs only 2 pounds. You can prepare a hardy supper anywhere there is sunlight.

5. Extinguish your fire properly.

Possibly the most crucial step, you must properly extinguish your fire once it has been extinguished. As Smith pointed out, embers can remain ignited long after the flames have been extinguished, so make sure you put it out properly to avoid any dangers.

“CalFire, our state agency, uses a pneumonic gadget called ‘Drown, Stir, and Feel,'” Smith explains. The first stage, he continues, is to “drown,” which literally means to pour water over the flames and embers (just watch out for steam and stray sparks). The second method is to “stir” the water into the embers with a shovel, ensuring that every burning spark is smothered and that no second-hand fires occur. The next stage is to “feel,” which you can achieve by running your hand over the embers with the back of your hand. If the fire is hot, keep submerging and stirring until the back of your hand feels cold above the embers. Smith says, “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.” “Make sure it’s not smouldering or smoking and that it’s cool.”

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