coming back alive
Beyond the Fire

There are many things to consider when starting a fire at your campsite or in your own backyard.

Check for:

  1. The requirement of a permit to start a fire,

  2. Fire pits and grills can be dangerous at all times and require caution.

Many people attempt to burn dangerous items in a fire. Keep your kids away from the ashes and look out for:

  • Glass

  • Nails

  • Hot coals

Many kids get injured tripping over fire rings or running into grills. You can prevent accidents like this by:

  • Marking an area around the grill and keep the kids out!

  • Keep wood away from the fire ring. This way you won't trip and fall into the fire pit either!

The start of a roaring campfire.
campfire safety
There are many secrets to building a long lasting fire, with a stable fire pit!
Learning the Lingo

Tinder: Dry leaves, dead grass, pine needles, wood shavings, newspaper and dryer lint call all be used as tinder because they are lightweight materials that burn quickly and can ignite heavier materials.

Kindling: Dead twigs and small sticks no thicker than an inch or two. These get the fire going and form the base of a fire structure.

Fuel: The larger pieces of wood that keep a fire burning.

Fuzz sticks: Partially shaved sticks with the shavings still attached that can help get a fire going when placed upright among tinder and kindling.

Kindling used to start fires.
Getting It Going.. The Basics

There are many ways to start a fire. Since form follows function, the type of fire you begin to build is related to the purpose of your fire.

Cooking, companionship, celebration etc. are all different purposes to a bustling fire. Three basic fire types lend themselves to a variety of campfire situations.

  • A Frame: The cooking fire. Once started and established this fire can be built up to any size. The best fire style for a good, general purpose cooking fire in the shortest amount of time.

  • Teepee: Produces tall frames, ideal for one-pot cooking and pretty bonfires. Especially easy to start in windy conditions. Can be built to any size.

  • Log Cabin: Easy to build, requires little maintenance once lit, and produces excellent coals. Great for cooking or bonfires, as it can be built to any size.

fire starting
A Teepee fire starter.
fire starting
A Log Cabin fire starter.
Adding Fuel to the Fire!

Make a fire that is safe to light. There are a few things you need to keep in mind when choosing fuel to feed a campfire.

Gasoline should never come near a campfire.

  • Gas or diesel fuel can ignite explosively. The fumes from burning fuel are toxic. Unburnt fuel vapors are extremely flammable. Keep all fuel away from your fire.

Some 'garbage' can release toxic fumes when burned.

  • Melting styrofoam releases gasses that can be fatal in an enclosed space

  • Some paper has ink that can flare up or can release toxic odours

  • Cheeze Whiz and Whipped Topping cans WILL explode if heated in a campfire.

Some vegetation should not be used for campfires.

  • Poison oak and ivy - if you think it makes your legs itch - try inhaling the smoke!

Green Fuel.

  • Fresh wood does not burn well. It causes a great deal of smoke, smells bad, and is almost impossible to light.

A Few Tips for a Safe Fire

Stay with your fire.

Sure there are lots of distractions, and other things to do while camping, but once you've started that fire, it's your responsibility to stay with it at all times.

Keep your campfire safe from children and pets. Whether they're snuggling by the warmth of the fire, roasting marshmallows, or just playing and having fun, make sure that they're always being supervised, to prevent any accident.

Things to watch out for with campfires

Never build a campfire on a windy day. Sparks and other burning material could travel large distances.

It may be tempting to get a roaring fire going, but try to keep your fire to a reasonable, and manageable size.

Now that you've enjoyed the fire, let's make sure that it's totally extinguished. Pour lots of water on the fire. Thoroughly drown it out. If you simply cover it with sand or dirt, the fire may be out, but heat will remain, and could cause someone harm.

Be sure you never walk away from any smoldering embers. An unwanted fire, or tragic burn could result. Don't leave a fire until it's "OUT COLD".

Now that the fire is out...

So you've had a great day, the fire is out, now it's time to turn in. But before you do, remember!

Never use any flammable liquid (gas, kerosene, propane etc.) burning appliance inside your tent. Not only could a fire result, but you could also be exposing yourself to carbon monoxide poisoning.

A heater in a tent is potentially hazardous as well.

If you need a light in your tent, use a flashlight or battery powered lantern.

The Burning Question

One of the most painful injuries experienced is a burn injury. Burns are complex injuries, skin and nerve endings are damaged.

Burns are classified in two ways: method, and degree of burn.


Thermal - including flame, radiation, or excessive heat from fire, steam, and hot liquids and hot objects

Chemical - including various acids, bases, and caustics.

Electrical - including electrical current and lightning.

Light - burns caused by intense light sources or ultraviolet light, which includes sunlight.

Radiation - such as from nuclear sources. Ultraviolet light is also a source of radiation burns. Degree


First degree burns are superficial injuries, only involving the epidermis (outer layer of skin). This type of burn will heal on its own without scarring within two to five years.

Second degree burns occur when the first the layer of skin is burned through and the dermal layer (second layer) is damaged. Skin appears moist and there will be intense pain. Second degree burns will heal themselves and produce little scarring, healing within a couple weeks.

Third degree burns involve all layers of skin. They are full thickness burns and are most serious of all burns. Usually charred black and include areas that are dry and white. Little or no pain is felt because the nerve endings have been destroyed. As a third degree burn heals dense scars form.


Cool a burn with water. Do what you must to get cool water on the burn as soon as you can. Go to the nearest water faucet and turn on the cold spigot and get cool water on the burn. Put cool, water-soaked cloths on the burn. If possible, avoid icy cold water and ice cubes. Such measures could cause further damage to burned skin.

Never apply ointment, grease or butter to the burned area. Applying such products, actually confine the heat of the burn to the skin and do not allow the damaged area to cool. In essence, the skin continues to "simmer." After the initial trauma of the burn and after it has had sufficient time to cool, it would then be appropriate to put an ointment on the burn. Ointments help prevent infection.


The Elements of Fire

Three Key Elements:

  1. Fuel

  2. Oxygen

  3. Heat

All three of these elements must be present in order to maintain a fire. If you're lacking any one of these, your fire won't light or extinguish itself.

In the end they are simplified to the need for something to burn, plenty of air to help it along and a good source of ignition. With the proper materials and good ventilation, you'll have a successful fire every time!

Building the Pit

Step 1:

Carefully choose a site that will be at least six feet away from tent walls, shrubs, trees or other dangerously flammable objects on all sides. Be aware of low-hanging branches overhead, and don’t pick a spot that will have your campfire setting the trees overhead on fire.

Step 2:

Your pit should end up being about two feet across at most. A circle is the most space-conscious shape, but you can make a square if it’s easier. Mark the edges of your pit and use a spade or entrenching tool to punch through the turf around the perimeter to a depth of about four inches.

Step 3:

If there is grass, carefully loosen and lift the sod in pieces that are as large as possible and set it aside well away from your fire. You will need this sod to cover your pit back up at the end of the event, so take good care of it. Keep it watered, if necessary.

Step 4:

Dig your pit to a depth of about four inches. Ideally, your pit should have nearly vertical or steeply angled sides and a flat or slightly concave bottom.

Step 5:

Carefully remove any flammable materials (such as sticks, dry leaves or other vegetation) from around the edges and outside perimeter of the ring or pit up to at least one foot away. You do not have to dig up or remove rooted grass, but you should cut it down so that it will be lower than the top edge of your stone circle, almost flush with the bottom edge, if necessary. If your pit is surrounded by dry, dead grass, you’ll have to be extra vigilant for sparks.

Step 6:

Completely line the edges of your pit with closely packed, fist-sized stones. The stones should rest on the undisturbed turf around the pit and be placed right at the lip of the pit all around, so that no undisturbed turf is within the fire ring.

fire starting
Tinder used to light fires.
fire starting
A campfire. Modest beginnings to majestic ends.
Laying the Fire

Laying an "A Frame"

Make the letter “A” out of large kindling or small fuel in the center of your fire pit. The wood you choose should be about 12" long and about 1"-2" in diameter. The sides of the “A” can rest directly on the floor of the fire pit; the “crossbar” should rest on top of the sides.

Place tinder inside the top triangle of the “A” so that one end of each twig is resting on the floor of the fire pit and the twigs are all leaning against the crossbar of the “A”. The result should be a sort of miniature lean-to of twigs. Don’t pack your tinder too closely—make sure you’re leaving enough space for good ventilation.

Laying a "Teepee"

The picture below shows how to build a small teepee of tinder and kindling to use in lighting a larger fire. It uses a ball of fibrous tinder.

To make a cooking or bonfire sized teepee, start by making a small a-frame in the center of your fire pit. Take small fuel and create a teepee of wood around the A-frame. Make sure you leave at least one opening large enough for you to reach the a-frame inside, and make sure that the sides of your teepee are close enough to the a-frame to catch when you light the fire.

Laying a "Log Cabin"

Start by making a small A-frame or Teepee in the center of your fire pit. Build a miniature log cabin of small or medium-sized fuel around the A-frame or Teepee. The size of wood you choose will be determined by the size of the fire you wish to have.

Gradually lay the logs toward the center as you build the cabin. Remember to leave plenty of space for good ventilation. In the end, it will have the appearance of a pyramid.
Flame retardant tents are an important defense against fire, but "flame-retardant" does NOT mean fireproof !
Extinguishing the Flames
  • First, drown the campfire with water!

  • Next, mix the ashes and embers with soil. Scrape all partially-burned sticks and logs to make sure all the hot embers are off them.

  • Stir the embers after they are covered with water and make sure that everything is wet.

  • Feel the coals, embers, and any partially-burned wood with your hands. Everything (including the rock fire ring) should be cool to the touch. Feel under the rocks to make sure no embers underneath.

  • When you think you are done, take an extra minute and add more water.

  • Finally, check the entire campsite for possible sparks or embers, because it only takes one to start a forest fire.

Remember…if it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.

CO Could COst You Your Life

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that kills people without warning. Every fall and winter, people get sick or die from carbon monoxide poisoning at home, in the car, or in a camper or tent. The victims don’t know what hit them.

The Mechanism of CO

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of combustion. The less efficient the combustion, the higher the CO produced. When CO enters the lungs, it attaches itself to the hemoglobin in the blood. It doesn’t let go, so the oxygen can’t attach itself. If CO concentrations are high enough the person dies from a lack of oxygen.

Signs and Symptoms

  • the victim may complain of headache, fatigue, nausea and dizziness.

  • as concentrations increase the headache and other symptoms also increase until convulsions and possibly death occur.

Preventing Exposure

  • DON'T use gas-powered motors indoors

  • DON'T use a barbecue as a tent heater

  • AVOID using flammable space heaters except in well ventilated areas.

CO is the silent killer, often going unnoticed until it is too late

Propane in Your Tent

Conduct a preseason check of your propane camping appliances, and check them periodically throughout the season.

Use only approved appliances from an approved testing laboratory.

Make sure your camper is adequately ventilated.

Do NOT store propane cylinders indoors.

NEVER use an open flame to test for propane leaks.

If you smell the familiar “rotten eggs” odour of propane:

propane tankExit your camper immediately.

If there is an outside tank, turn off the gas valve.


Call your propane supplier or the fire department from a phone outside the immediate vicinity of your campsite.

Extinguish all open flames and immediately leave any are when propane fumes are suspected. Do not light matches or use any electrical equipment.

Tents and Flames Don't Mix

Whether camping in your own backyard or far away from home, be careful with flammable liquids and open flame near the tent.

  1. Buy a tent made of a fabric treated with a flame retardant. A paraffin-coated cotton tent can burn very easily.

  2. Always use only flashlights or battery-powered lanterns in or near your tent. Keep candles, matches, and other open flames away from the tent.

  3. Keep all liquid fuel away from your tent and children. Never use gasoline. Use dry twigs- not a liquid starter- to freshen a campfire.

  4. Build your campfire downwind, far away from your tent. Make sure the fire is out before you go to sleep or leave the campsite.

Make sure you watch your children very closely while camping out. Children may experiment with campfires, candles, or tents. Supervise their learning and play.