Bonfires are a classic staple of a fun camping trip; they keep you warm and were the birthplace of s’mores. However, it’s always important to practice good fire safety when you start any kind of fire. Follow these guidelines to stay safe while enjoying your camping trip and roasting marshmallows.
Before starting any kind of fire, make sure that there aren’t any fire restrictions in place. If current conditions make wildfires more likely, a fire restriction may be implemented which may ban bonfires in certain conditions. Some areas such as parts of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area and the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness area never allow campfires in order to protect the area from potential wildfires. You can read about fire restrictions at fs.usda.gov.
You should also check the weather conditions to see if it’s safe to start a fire. If the area is hot and dry, your fire is more likely to grow into a forest fire. High winds can also cause fires to spread, so it’s best to avoid bonfires when it’s windy out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
If you’re staying at a campsite, only use designated fire pits for a bonfire. These pits are either made of a metal material or surrounded by stones so the fire is contained. If you’re making your own fire pit, build it at least 10 feet away from any buildings or flammable materials. Make sure there isn’t anything in the fire pit that shouldn’t be burned before using it and make sure there’s no surrounding wood or vegetation it could spread to.
When making your fire, stick will dry kindling and wood. Burning other materials such as plastic may release toxic fumes into the air, harming both yourself and other campers. Putting accelerants like gas or other flammable liquids in your fire is also a bad idea. Doing this will cause your fire to get out of control and may even cause an explosion.
Even if a fire is only built from safe materials, flying embers are a possibility and may be dangerous if you sit too close to the fire. In addition, smoke can be dangerous to your lungs, so it’s recommended to avoid breathing it in whenever possible.
Leaving a fire unattended is a recipe for disaster. Not only can your fire get out of control, it could also cause the start of a forest fire. Never leave a fire that’s still burning and never leave children unattended by the fire. When you’re done with the bonfire, extinguish it with water and wait until it’s completely gone. After dousing the flames, cover the pit with dirt to prevent any remaining sparks from being reignited.
Forest fires are devastating natural disasters that can destroy large amounts of land very quickly. Due to their size and the speed at which they can spread, forest fires have been a force of destruction worldwide, most recently in California and Australia. In the U.S., there have been an average of 67,000 wildfires per year over the past 10 years.
All forest fires start with a spark. This spark may be human caused or naturally caused, with human-caused fires making up the large majority of all forest fires. Human causes may include cigarette stubs, bonfires, land-clearing fires, and other accidental fires. On the other hand, naturally-caused fires generally burn the most total area because they may not be detected as quickly and may not be contained as easily. Natural causes may include volcanic eruptions, lightning strikes, and the rare spontaneous combustion of dry sawdust or leaves.
All fires require fuel, oxygen, and heat, each part of the “fire triangle”, to start and to continue burning. As a result, the ideal environment for a forest fire is a dry forest on a hot and windy day. Western states and dry states such as California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona are at the most risk for wildfires. California and large parts of Australia have both recently experienced wildfires due to very high temperatures and dry conditions.
Forest fires increase in severity the higher up in the forest they burn. The three types of forest fires by vertical location are ground fires, which take place below the leaves, surface fires, which can be up to 1.3 meters high, and crown fires, which take place in the treetops. Crown fires are the most dangerous and can spread faster than the other types of fires. After reaching the tops of the trees, crown fires may be able to move from tree to tree and are difficult to extinguish.
The very first step in fighting forest fires is the notification that the fire exists. If a fire gets out of hand or a potential forest fire is spotted, it’s important to tell the authorities as soon as possible so they can start containing and extinguishing it.
After learning of a new fire, there are a couple of techniques that firefighters use to put it out. The main goal is to take away one or more sides of the fire triangle so that the fire can’t be sustained.
A firebreak is a strip of land that has been stripped of anything that a fire could use for fuel such as brush or debris. Firebreaks are built around the fire to prevent it from spreading further. This is the job of firefighters called hotshots who work in teams to contain the fire.
Backfires may also be used to get rid of any fuel in the fire’s path. A backfire is a fire that is meant to burn up fuel so the larger fire is contained. These fires are set by the ground crew who are able to contain the fire.
Planes called air tankers are able to drop thousands of gallons of water and fire retardant from above. Helicopters can also douse the flames by dropping water bombs and by getting firefighters to the site of the fire.
While the larger fire is being extinguished from above, specialized firefighters called smokejumpers suppress small fires on the ground so they don’t grow in size. Smokejumpers are able to get to the small fires away from the action by jumping out of planes.
For more information on wildfires and how to stay safe, visit American Red Cross Wildfire Safety.