Nice little campfire

Avoiding mistakes when building and starting a fire in camp

Nice little campfire
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"Avoiding mistakes when building and starting a fire in camp"
Caption: Nice little campfire
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It is easy to make a nice warm campfire, and to do so quickly. However, there are also a number of common mistakes that can make the fire much more difficult to make, and some of these can prevent it from burning properly or at all. It is worthwhile to look at some of these, to get a better idea of what not to do.

Campfire pit

Whether the fire pit must be created or already exists, a mistake that often isn’t fully considered is the condition of the soil at the bottom of the pit. Specifically, the main problem when it comes to starting the fire is often with dampness. If previous campers used the site a short time before you arrived and if they put the campfire out properly, it was probably doused with a good amount of water. Even a freshly dug pit is often damp, even if it is only a couple of feet deep.

This means that in order to burn well, the fire usually needs to first dry out the soil. Dry bark can be used to build the fire on, which helps greatly, but many people don’t think about it and try to build the fire directly on the damp soil.

A ring of stones is also not a good substitute for a fire pit. The fire can too easily jump the enclosure and this can lead to a wildfire. This is more a matter of safety than with actually building the fire.

Campfire starting

Understandably, especially if the air temperature is cool, people usually don’t want to spend a great deal of time waiting for the fire to get going. Unfortunately, far too often this leads to another often-encountered mistake. This is the use of flammable liquids to start the fire. Gasoline, kerosene and lighter fluid aren’t just combustible. They are explosive. Pouring such fluids on wood and then lighting it is a recipe for disaster, which can draw an end to the camping trip in a hurry.

What is more, if the wood isn’t well seasoned and dry, the fluids usually don’t create enough prolonged heat to get the wood burning, so it is often wasted effort. It is far easier to make cheap and easy fire starters and doing so is much less dangerous. If necessary, fire starters can be purchased, as well. Either way, these usually function by providing a non-explosive heat source for a long enough period of time to get dry tinder and kindling burning.

Use of green wood

In many places, one of the most common errors is the use of green wood. For wood to burn well, the water content usually needs to be 20% or less. Green wood often has water content as high as 60%. Still, every year, campers will sometimes cut down green, living trees, hoping to produce a fire. Not only does this normally mean that the tree will be killed, the camper will generally find that the fire seems to refuse to burn.

This is senseless and wasteful since there is often dead, seasoned and mostly dry wood lying about on the ground. It simply needs to be picked up and transported to camp. Some people are surprised to learn that even in a rainstorm, the dead wood tends to be much drier than green wood and thus it burns better, producing more heat in less time.

Wood size

Few people would consider it wise to put a bunch of paper on the ground, to lay a heavy log on this, to light the paper and to expect the log to burn. Yet, many people actually repeat this mistake every year, when they go camping. This is often due to lack of knowledge, but it is likely to be partly due to impatience as well.

When building a fire, even using fire starters, the best method is usually to start with small twigs. As they begin to burn, progressively add wood that is a little larger in diameter, until the large heavy pieces can be added. Otherwise, the campfire can easily be smothered.

Location of other items

Another unfortunately common mistake is to put burnable or items that can melt or burst into flame, too close to the campfire. For instance, a person, thinking of the warmth of the fire, may pitch a tent far too close to the fire pit. This can have tragic results or expensive ones. It is much better to consider this prior to setting up the rest of the camp. Some people even elect to build the fire and get it burning prior to setting up the rest of camp.

Building a campfire isn’t difficult and most people pick up the skill quickly. Knowing what some of the most common mistakes are though, can lead to better and safer results. Most people would prefer returning from the camping trip with fond memories, rather than to return with horror stories.


More about this author: Rex Trulove