Campfires are a big part of the camping experience. There’s something so relaxing and mesmerizing about sitting in the dark, focused on a fire, with the sounds of the night around us. According to a 2014 study at the University of Alabama, there’s a good reason why we look forward to those perfect campfire experiences—watching and listening to a campfire lowers our blood pressure. The researchers believe that this is because “all of our senses become absorbed in the experience.” The beauty of a well managed fire appeals to us, the warmth is comforting on a chilly night, and we love the sound of the burning wood, the smell of the smoke, the taste of those roasted hotdogs and marshmallows. It’s a multisensory experience that we have shared with humankind for thousands of years. It’s also about family and friends: gathering your favorite people together. Since that’s what RVing is about too, we want to focus on how to combine the two—RVs and campfires—with safety in mind.
The Basics of Campfire Safety
First and foremost, before you ever light a match, make sure your fire area is safe:
Clear a 10-foot radius around your fire pit—pick up any debris or flammable material
Always build your fire in a campfire pit, never directly on the ground
If there isn’t a fire pit provided with a metal ring, circle the pit with rocks to keep your fire where it belongs
Keep any flammable items more than 10 feet from the fire pit and upwind, including aerosol cans, pressurized containers, matches and your stack of firewood—sparks can fly and a gust of wind can carry them a long ways.
Have water and a shovel nearby in case your fire gets out of hand—a bucket of dirt or sand will do the trick as well
Once you’ve made the area safe, follow campground guidelines for fire building:
Depending on the weather, fires may not be permitted—don’t build one if you’re not supposed to
Only use local firewood to avoid bringing in *insects and diseases that destroy forests
If you’re allowed to gather wood around the campground, only use dead or downed wood—never cut or break branches from standing trees
Wood about the diameter of your wrist will burn easily down to ash, and make the safest fire
DON’T burn your camp trash, pack it out to a garbage can
Practice good common sense:
Don’t build a fire under or near shrubs and low hanging branches, or on tree roots
Don’t make the fire too big—aim for the two-foot rule: 2’x2’x2’
Never leave a fire unattended, ever
In order to avoid sparks and burns, don’t throw things in the fire unnecessarily or take things out of it once they’re in
Keep camping chairs two or three feet back from the fire
If people are drinking, practice extra caution around a campfire
When it’s time to put the fire out, do a good job of it:
Stop adding new wood early on and let any wood in the fire pit burn down to white ash
Use your shovel to disperse the ashes around the pit
Thoroughly soak the ashes with water
Make sure the fire is completely out before you leave—you should be able to put your hand where the fire was and feel no heat
The Particulars of RVs and Campfires
In order to protect your RV and make it last for many years to come, fire safety is particularly important. You should always have at least one fire extinguisher that is easily accessible in case you need it, and it’s not a bad idea to keep one in the kitchen area and another outside. In regard to campfires, there are also a couple things to keep in mind.
One of the most vulnerable parts of any RV when it comes to fire is your awning(s). They are flammable and they are hooked to your RV. In the best case scenario, a flying spark from a campfire might put a hole in an awning, melt it, or singe it. In the worst case scenario, that spark could catch an awning on fire, which might quickly spread to the RV itself. For this reason, it’s important to keep your RV awning outside the 10-foot, debris-free fire perimeter that you created. This is also why we recommend keeping a second fire extinguisher outside where you can easily get to it if you need it.
Another safety practice that we encourage all RVers to keep in mind is to park upwind from your fire whenever possible. This is particularly important when the weather is dry and hot. Wind can easily pick up embers and drop them into surrounding shrubs or trees, which can put your loved ones and your RV at risk. Take a moment at your campsite before you park to see if you can determine which way the wind will blow through.
If you have the storage space in your RV, one way to make sure you always have a safe campfire pit, is to carry your own with you. A portable fire pit allows you to choose where you want to set it up, which gives you the most flexibility to choose a spot away from your RV. And they have the added benefit of giving you an instant fire pit if you’re boondocking off the beaten path. They are also popular with homeowners, so they’re easy to find for a decent price at stores like Bi-Mart, Home Depot, Amazon, etc. Be sure to get one with a metal mesh cover for added safety.
Kids and Campfires
If you’re RVing with children, it’s a great opportunity to teach them about both the wonders and the dangers of campfires. Take a moment to introduce them to Smokey Bear and what it means to take good care of our camping lands. And always, always make sure an adult is monitoring children around a fire; never leave them unattended.
Establish some basic safety rules before you build the first campfire and reiterate those rules as many times as necessary. Here are some good guidelines for kids:
No running or horsing around near the campfire—a child can easily trip and fall into the fire or onto a metal or rock fire ring
No lighting the fire without an adult’s permission and supervision
No throwing things into the fire or poking at it to create sparks
Have children help to put out the fire when you’re leaving so they know what to do in an emergency
Cooking Safely Over the Campfire—Some Handy Gadgets
We know RVers often have a hard time finding enough storage space for all their gear, and can’t spare the room for more handy gadgets… but we just can’t keep ourselves from sharing these awesome campfire gadgets to help you safely cook over the campfire:
Camp Chef Lumberjack Over Fire Grill—a portable grill with folding legs for easy transportation and compact storage. Makes it easy to cook right over the campfire.
Extending marshmallow roasting sticks—A great tool for camping with kids. Keeps little fingers further from the fire when it’s marshmallow time.
Open fire popcorn popper—Make popcorn old school style, over your campfire.
Sandwich cooking iron—Sandwiches, pizza pockets, hand-pies: just put it in the cooking iron, lock the iron closed and cook over a campfire flame or in the hot coals!
As you’re planning your 2017 camping season, please keep fire safety in mind. And remember, kicking back in your favorite camp chair in front of a fire is good for your health! So pack up the RV and get some R&R soon.
If we can be of help in any way, don’t hesitate to give us a call. or stop by the RV lot in Junction City.
Photo credit Enitsa Koeva