Campfires are amazing. You can stay warm in front of them, cook over them, create light at night, and celebrate life around them. Sadly, you can also burn down a forest with them.
Smokey the Bear has said it over and over, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires!” Unfortunately, some people don’t get it. The biggest fire that impacted Montana with smoke, this summer, was the Moose fire in Idaho. Recently they announced that it was started by an unattended campfire. Tens of thousands of beautiful forests, wildlife, and watersheds destroyed because someone ignored a campfire.
Over 80% of all forest fires are caused by humans! That’s a lot of carelessness. As a Boy Scout and later a Scoutmaster, fire use and safety were never ignored. We always made sure that an area around our fire was clear of leaves and debris. Location of tents was in a safe location. Every tent and fire area had a full bucket of water in case it was needed. If we had vehicles with us, fire extinguishers were on hand as well.
Ceremonial fires were often larger. This meant more water buckets, a larger safe space, and a clear overstory. Pallet and debris fires can grow extremely tall. You need to be prepared to deal with embers, sparks, and wind-blown sparks. Pallet fires are often overloaded and flame out of control. A well-controlled fire is safer and warmer than a flaming pile of trash.
Most campers simply need a small fire. The fire is for sitting around in the evening and cooking over. The Keystone Fireplace layout is ideal for this purpose. Make your fire ring in the shape of a keyhole. I usually dig into the ground as well in case there are any roots. A deeper fire stays warmer and is less dangerous.
Use rocks to layout the ring. Make sure to rake the area clear of flammable debris. Locate the fire in a safe area, away from dried grass, forests, or buildings. Having a shovel nearby is also a good idea. You can use it to move coals, poke the fire, or stir the coals when putting the fire out.
The narrow part of the keyhole area is perfect for cooking. Shovel coals into the narrow spot. Use rocks that allow you to set pots and pans in place. If you have a grate, position it across the stones. Add more coals as you need them.
Once fire time is done, put out the fire completely. Add the water and stir. There should be no smoke or hot coals. You should be able to lay your hand in the fire without harm.
Be Fire Smart!