Guidelines for Creating Open Campfires in National Parks

| October 15, 2014 | 0 Comments


Tending to an open fire camping Follow Me on Pinterest

Tending to an open campfire

Sitting around an open campfire is one of the best parts of going camping. There is nothing quite like the glow of an open fire in the evening after the sun has set. At the same time there is nothing worse than the glow of a forest fire caused by someone who let his or her campfire get out of control. Preventing fire pit accidents both in your backyard and at the campground takes planning, learning to obey the rules, knowledge, and the desire to enjoy your open fire safely.

Fires You Can Create Outdoors For Camping or Cooking

One thing that many people fail to realize is that there are different types of fires you can create based on your specific needs. Open fires can be created just for fun and cooking a few marshmallows, they can be a necessary source of heat when camping out in colder weather, and they can be designed specifically for cooking.

At the same time you need to carefully consider where you will be camping.  Will you be pitching your tent in an approved campground, or will you be hanging out in the wilderness far from the beaten path. No matter where you decide to camp, any fire you put together must be safely contained to ensure that there is no risk of it spreading and causing a devastating forest fire.

Before lighting any type of campfire, you must be aware of the rules, regulations, and guidelines surrounding the use of open fires. In recent years many national forests, state parks, and privately owned campgrounds have banned the use of open fires of any kind. This was done in response to an increasing number of destructive wildfires resulting from unattended, incorrectly built, or improperly extinguished fires. Be sure to check the campground rules or with local authorities when camping in the wild.

Designated Fire Pits

The vast majority of campgrounds that do allow you to have an open fire have their own designated fire pits and campsites where you can have an open campfire. Some campgrounds will allow you to use your own commercially available fire pits. This is because these camping fire pits are designed to ensure that there is no risk of any hot ashes or embers escaping and starting a fire. But again, you do need to check with the campground to ensure your campground will allow.

There are of course a number of open fire safety rules you will need to follow if you want to be allowed to have a fire at your campsite, whether you are using their camping fire pit or yours:

  • Large fires are typically not allowed
  • Never use any form of accelerant to light your fire.
  • Obey all posted times for having a fire
  • Be aware that your neighbors may not like the smoke and build your fire downwind if possible.
  • Never leave a burning fire alone
  • Always fully extinguish your fire using water and spread the ashes once cooled down.

Despite the fact you might be thoroughly enjoying your campfire, there is a good chance that your neighbors may not be quite as pleased with it as you are. There are two common reasons why others may not like your glowing flames. One is the smell, which can be less than pleasant depending on what you are burning. The other is the smoke, unless you are burning perfect dry wood, your fire is likely to produce its fair share of smoke.

Depending on the wind and the proximity of your neighbors, what may only seem like a small amount of smoke to you can seem like a smoke bomb attack to your neighbors. Exercise good campfire etiquette and consider the feelings of your neighbors, it never hurts to ask them if they mind your having a fire. Most will tell you they don’t mind as this is all part of camping in the great outdoors.

Burning the Right Type of Wood

To most people wood for a campfire is anything they can burn in a fire pit. Given the cost of buying firewood at the average campground, it can be tempting to bring your own firewood to save money. Most states now have laws against bringing your own firewood and even in those states that do not have laws like this, individual national and state parks, and campgrounds have their own rules. There are several reasons for this including:

  • The risk of bringing insects and other foreign pests into the area
  • The risk of bringing foreign fungi and mold into the area
  • Reducing the amount of money needed to support the park or campground

Putting Out Your Fire

Even if you observe all of the appropriate rules, regulations, and guidelines regarding having an open campfire, there will always be the risk of your fire getting out of control and causing a devastating forest fire that can destroy millions of acres. As the great Smokey the Bear once said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” There are a number of important steps you must follow in order to contain, control, and extinguish open campfires:

  • Burn your fire in an approved campfire ring or fire pit
  • Use only approved materials
  • Never use accelerants to light or relight your fire
  • Always stir the ashes, water them down, stir again, add more water, and rinse repeat until you are sure your fire is out.
  • Spread the cool ashes to ensure they are completely cold

Failure to Follow the Rules

Whether you are planning to spend time in a campground or out in the wilds of one of our great national forests, you must follow all of the rules. These rules were not developed to inconvenience you, they have been created over a period of time with only two things in mind. These are to ensure your safety and that of those around you, and to reduce the risk of your fire burning out of control and destroying millions of acres of vital forests and grasslands.

If you fail to follow the rules you may be subject to any or all of the following:

  • Being asked to leave
  • Being fined
  • Being incarcerated
  • Being billed for the cost of the damage your fire has caused

With the right attitude and a desire to follow all of the rules, regulations, and guidelines covering campfire fire pits and open fires, you and your family can enjoy a safe time in the great outdoors. Take the time to learn how to start, maintain, and extinguish your fire before setting out to ensure you do not put anyone or anything at risk.

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