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How to start a campfire

26 June 2023

Are you ready to gather around the campfire and roast some marshmallows? Before enjoying the warm glow and delicious treats, you'll need to know how to start a campfire. In this guide, we will take you through building and maintaining a safe and successful fire. From choosing the perfect location to properly extinguishing the flames, we've got you covered. So grab your supplies, and let's get started!

Pick your spot and gather materials 

When choosing a spot for your campfire, there are a few key factors to consider. First and foremost, you want to ensure that fires are allowed in your area. Some areas may also have temporary fire restrictions in place due to dry or windy conditions, so it's important to check with local authorities before starting a fire. 

Always use an existing firepit if one is available. If you need to create your own fire pit, choose a location for your fire that is at least 4-5 meters away from anything that could catch fire, such as trees, bushes, or tents. Look for a spot that is flat and clear of any debris. To prepare the fire pit, dig a shallow hole and create a boundary around it using rocks or a metal ring. This helps contain the fire and prevent it from spreading beyond the intended area. 

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Different types of fuel

Tinder:
This is the first material you should use to start your campfire. Tinder is any type of easily combustible material that can easily catch fire, such as dry leaves, twigs, or bark. It should be dry and small enough to ignite quickly with a match or lighter. 

Kindling:
Once your tinder is burning, add kindling to build the fire up. Kindling consists of small sticks or branches that are slightly larger than your tinder. Pine cones, wood chips, or other small wood scraps can also be used. These will catch fire quickly and help to spread the flame. 

Firewood:
Add larger logs or pieces of firewood once your campfire is burning strongly. These will burn for longer and provide the bulk of the heat for your fire. You should choose dry and seasoned wood, as wet or green wood creates more smoke and burns less efficiently. 

Building the fire 

Different types of fire structures

Building a safe and efficient fire requires more than just a pile of logs and a match. Understanding different fire structures and their purposes can help you build a fire that burns longer, hotter, and safer.

Teepee 

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Begin by placing some small pieces of dry kindling in the centre of where you want to build a fire. Next, lean larger sticks or pieces of wood against each other in a teepee shape around the kindling. Light the kindling in the centre, and the flames should grow and start to catch the sticks. Gradually add larger pieces of wood as the fire grows

Pros: 

  • Suitable for starting fires quickly and easily. 

  • Allows air to circulate and keeps the fire burning well. 

  • Easy to adjust the size of the fire by adding more wood as needed. 

Cons: 

  • Requires frequent attention to maintain the teepee shape. 

  • Not ideal for cooking since the structure collapses as the fire burns down. 

  • Can burn through wood quickly if not managed properly. 

Log Cabin

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Start by laying two pieces of wood parallel to each other with a small gap between them. Lay two more pieces of wood perpendicular to the first two on top of them. Continue this pattern, alternating the direction of the logs until you have built up four or five layers. Leave a gap in the centre of the structure to start the fire. Light the kindling in the centre, and the flames should grow and begin to catch the logs. Gradually add larger pieces of wood as the fire grows. 

Pros: 

Creates a longer-lasting fire since the structure burns slowly. 

  • Provides a stable base for cooking. 

  • Ideal for larger fires. 

Cons: 

  • Requires more time to build compared to other structures. 

  • Can be challenging to get started 

Pyramid

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Arrange your largest logs side by side in a layer, starting with three or four. Then, rotate 90 degrees and place a second layer of slightly smaller logs on top of the first. Continue building alternating layers in this fashion, decreasing the size of the logs as you go. Finally, place your kindling and tinder on top to start the fire. This structure allows the fire to burn slowly and evenly from the top down.

Pros: 

  • Provides a long-lasting, even burn. 

  • Ideal for cooking since the structure is stable. 

Cons: 

  • Can be difficult to keep the structure stable as the logs burn down. 

  • Can be more difficult to get started. 

How to start a fire with wet wood

Starting a campfire with wet wood in damp conditions can be a hassle. But here are some tips that can help you get a fire going: 

Split wood and kindling. The smaller pieces will catch fire faster, and the dry wood on the inside will be more flammable.  

Add more wood gradually. Starting a fire with wet wood will take more time and patience. Be prepared to spend more time tending to the fire and adding more kindling as needed. 

Use the Teepee structure. Wet wood will produce more smoke and less heat, so you must ensure enough airflow to keep the fire going. A high fire structure, like the Teepee, is perfect for wet conditions.  

Light low. To make your fire last longer and produce more heat, start by lighting it low. This way, the heat from the fire will gradually dry out the wood as it climbs. Another tip is to light your fire from the windward side, as the wind will blow the flames through your tinder and kindling, igniting them faster. 

Use a firestarter. If you are struggling to get the fire going, you may need to resort to using a firestarter to ignite the kindling. A commercial firestarter, cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, or dryer lint are all good options. 

Extinguishing the fire 

When extinguishing a fire, it's important to do it properly to prevent any risk of a wildfire. Start by using a shovel or stick to spread the embers and ashes around to cool them down. Next, pour water over the fire and mix the ashes and embers with the soil to extinguish any remaining hot spots. Finally, leave the fire pit as you found it by cleaning up trash or debris and scattering the ashes over a large area. 

Campfire safety - do’s and don’ts 

It's important to remember that campfires can be dangerous and should be treated carefully. By following these do's and don'ts for campfire safety, you can enjoy the benefits of a campfire while keeping yourself and the environment safe. 

Do’s

  • Do build your campfire in a designated fire ring or pit, if available. 

  • Do clear the area around your campfire of any dry leaves, twigs, or other flammable materials. 

  • Do keep a bucket of water or shovel nearby in case the fire needs to be extinguished quickly. 

  • Do keep the fire small and under control, and never leave it unattended. 

  • Do make sure the fire is completely extinguished before leaving the area or going to bed. 

Don’ts

  • Don't start a campfire if fire restrictions or bans are in place. 

  • Don't build a campfire where it could easily spread, such as near dry grass, bushes, or overhanging branches. 

  • Don't use gasoline or other flammable liquids to start the fire. 

  • Don't leave the campfire unattended, even for a short time. 

  • Don't let children or pets play near the campfire. 

  • Don't throw trash or other materials into the fire. 

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