It’s a drought-filled, high heat summer, which is a prime foundation for campfires to get out of control. As you’re packing up the UTV for weekend warrior activities, it’s important to know the safest way to put out a campfire. For those who are experts, a refresher course is a good idea since all that adrenaline during an emergency can get in the way of reaction times. Start by making sure campfires are kept to a size that’s manageable, and add bigger wood pieces to keep it going instead of smaller ones which can be prone to flying away—into dangerous territory.
It’s tempting to use a campfire as your personal incinerator, but what you feed into the fire can be dangerous. Don’t burn any containers that are pressurized or any aerosols (they’re explosive). Don’t “burn” glass as it can’t melt, but will rather shatter and turn into dangerous shards. Finally, don’t burn aluminum since it only breaks down into tiny pieces—and the dust it creates is toxic for humans to breathe.
Preventing a campfire from spreading is preferable, of course. Ensure kids and pets are kept away from the fire and under adult supervision whenever a fire is roaring. An unattended fire is asking for trouble, and so is cutting live branches or trees while a campfire is burning. However, it’s putting out a campfire when you’re finished that’s the tricky part (especially if there’s been some imbibing to go along with the hot dogs).
Ideally, you let the wood completely burn before extinguishing the fire (although waiting for 100 percent ash isn’t always possible). Extinguishing starts with drowning all embers (not only the red ones) in a lot of water. Scrape logs and sticks with a shovel to loosen up any embers. Keep adding water until there’s no hissing noise, then stir the campfire with the shovel.
The entire campfire should be cold and wet to the touch. In a pinch, you can use dirt if there’s no extra water. In this case, stirring is key since burying a fire in dirt or sand can lead to underground smoldering. If the campfire gets ahold of underground roots, it can “feed” and surface while you’re sleeping.
Always keep the most important rule of campfires in mind: If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave it. When you’re “packing it in to pack it out,” give the campfire one last touch to make sure it’s cool. Follow these rules, and happy campers are guaranteed (assuming there were enough s’mores to go around).