For as long as there has been camping, there have been campfires — not only for warmth, lighting, and cooking, but also for group bonding, storytelling, and other social activities.
However, campfires that are not built or cared for properly can cause devastating wildfires that may impact the landscape for decades. Before setting up camp, know how to build campfires responsibly:
+ Keep campfires small, and burn only small pieces of wood gathered from the surrounding environment (leave the hatchets and axes at home).
+ Use only existing fire rings at officially designated sites whenever possible. If an established fire ring is not available, choose areas that are already impacted and don’t have heavy vegetation that could potentially catch fire. Also be sure to clear away any dry leaves, twigs, or pine needles.
+ Use camp stoves for cooking — this minimizes the chances of sparks flying into the environment.
+ “Stealth camping” means leaving no impact on the environment — this means no campfires at all.
+ Do not burn trash — this can cause permanent damage to the environment and leach chemicals into nearby water sources.
+ Do not chop down living trees – green wood won’t burn anyway.
+ Be aware of dry/drought conditions. If it has not rained recently, the chances for wildfires will be significantly higher. Do not build a fire during these conditions.
Keep in mind that campfires are not permitted on some parts of the Trail and many areas along the A.T. restrict fires to designated sites only or prohibit fires altogether.
Around here, New Jersey doesn’t allow open campfires at all, and employs “Ridge-Runners” to make sure everyone follows the rules. New York does allow open campfires, but only within existing fire rings. Connecticut, the next state to the north, doesn’t allow campfires.
State and federal parks have their own sets of rules.
So it’s a patchwork and you need to know the rules and regulations before heading out.
To properly put out a campfire, follow these steps:
+ Carefully ‘knock’ the fire down with a stick (or metal trowel) until only small or no flames are present.
+ Mix the hot coals, underlying dirt, ash, and inorganic debris with the stick/trowel while steadily trickling water over it.
+ Place hand, palm down, over the mixture without touching it to test for heat. If it’s still hot, repeat step 2 until it’s no longer hot.
+ Once the mixture is no longer too hot to touch, continue to trickle water over it while carefully and methodically stirring the mixture with your hand until it’s cold to the touch.* If you encounter hot spots, douse it with water. If you used a stick to stir the mixture, make sure it’s also cold.
+ Once the fire is completely out, use the remaining water to rinse your hands.
When dealing fire in any way, always use the highest degree of caution and care.
Though campfires can provide many benefits, they require time, effort, and knowledge to maintain. There are many other ways to meet your needs when in the outdoors:
+ A good layering system of moisture-wicking and insulating materials will provide warmth and comfort as well as — if not better than — a campfire could.
+ A headlamp will make moving around your campsite safe, simple, and hands free.
+ A candle can provide the atmosphere and camaraderie of a fire but on a smaller scale.
+ A flashlight or headlamp tucked under a clear Nalgene bottle full of water provides an awesome glowing centerpiece for any campsite.
(Source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy)
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