Hot dogs on a stick, toasted marshmallows, campfire pies and wood-smoked meals all have one thing in common; aside from being yummy and rich, they are an integral part of a good campfire. Sitting around a nice campfire late at night, as the air cools and the loons call wearily, wolves howling in the distance and horror stories told and campfire songs sung, the campfire is as synonymous to camping as a stick and string are to fishing down at the creek.
Knowing how to properly build a campfire will ensure that you will be able to build one without having to pour a gallon of gasoline, fire starter bricks, or other flammable and explosively dangerous materials into the fire pit. Just by watching an episode of Survivor on television, people realize that making a fire is not as easy as it looks without having the proper gear and know how. And, besides, the time may come when you need to build a campfire while not at the campsite, for warmth or for cooking a shore lunch.
In order to build a camp fire, you should;
* Start gathering wood and fire starter. If there is wood for sale, then you will most likely have to buy it, as many campgrounds forbid picking up wood from the ground. It is, after all, one of their big money makers for most campsites. Wood can usually be bought from farmers on nearby country roads, for a fraction of the cost that campgrounds charge.
You will need dried grasses, dry moss and small dry twigs, small sticks, small branches, as well as split and full logs. Try to get a mixture of hard and softwoods, for the color and smell of the fire, and the flavor that is added to meats and fish that are cooked over the open flames or a bed of coals. Keep the firewood away from the fire pit, and keep it covered with a tarpaulin (in case of rain or mildew).
* Clear the fire pit. If there is no fire pit, dig a hole about a foot deep and three feet across, with a smaller hole beside it, and a small tunnel connecting the two pits. The larger pit is for the fire, and the smaller pit is used to funnel the hot coals to for cooking. Surround the pit with large rocks, and fill in the rock wall’s holes with smaller rocks. Try to dig your fire pit as close to a body of water as possible, and away from the tents and trees, so that sparks that get caught in the breeze do not cause fires.
* Build your foundation. Make a mound of some dry moss, dead and dry grasses and birch bark. Place the fire starter mound in the center of the bigger fire pit, and have the smaller dry twigs handy. Put a match, lighter, flint and blade or magnifying glass to the pile of grasses and moss, as well as a bit of newspaper if any is handy (or, any type of paper or cardboard). As the mound starts to smoke and emit light, start blowing softly and constantly into the mound until flames erupt.
Once flames are consistent, start adding the small twigs in the form of a tee-pee, then as they start burning, add more larger twigs, then branches, all the while keeping the tee-pee format. Wait until the fire is well burning before adding any quarter-split logs. The half-split and full logs should be the last to be added to the fire.
* Do not let children by the campfire unless closely monitored, and while a campfire is lit, make sure that there is always a competent and sober adult around it. All it takes is a second’s distraction while a child is running by and stumbles into the pit for disaster to strike. Dogs have an instinct to keep away from fires, but they should be closely monitored for any sparks or flying bits of bark that may land on them as they lay by your feet.
* Add lawn chairs, folding camp chairs or blankets on the ground by the campfire to keep your bodies off of the cool and hard ground. Do not use good blankets, or use sleeping bags by the fire, as sparks will jump from the fire and burn holes in anything on the ground nearby the fire pit.
* Have your campfire foods and implements of cooking (read; sticks and campfire pie makers, Schmore makers, wieners and marshmallows) ready. Gather family and friends, add some friendly chatter and stir in some horror stories. Revel at each others stories and jokes, and watch the stars pop out of the night sky a hundred at a time. Mix until tired, then fully douse the fire and hit the tents for the night. Repeat until it’s time to go home.
Knowing how to properly make a fire will make your camping experience all the more fun and enjoyable, and having everything ready before starting to build fires will ensure a great fire right off the start, and waste no wood.
Camp safe. Camp informed.