Eastern Sierra Essentials: Starting, Maintaining and Extinguishing Campfires

For many campers, a campfire is essential. It’s a beloved tradition for families, friends and people all around the world, and is the centerpiece for gatherings in the backwoods. Here are some essential tips for starting, enjoying, and extinguishing campfires in campgrounds and in the backcountry.

How To Build a Campfire

  1. Start with dry twigs and small sticks. Arrange in a small Tee Pee or pyramid in an established fire ring. Remember a good fire builder never needs gas or kerosene to start a fire.
  2. Add larger sticks as the fire builds up. Avoid using hatches, saws or breaking branches off trees. Dead and downed wood actually burns more easily than “green” wood.
  3. Put bigger pieces on last, pointing them toward the center and into the flames. Use wood no larger than the diameter of an adult wrist.
  4. Feed your fire one stick at a time. Feeding rate will control burn rate and will help control fire flare.

Tips For Campground Campfires

  • Always be sure to ask a campground host if campfires are permitted in the area. In some situations campfires may be prohibited if fire caution is high in severe dry weather periods.
  • If you’re in an undeveloped area, check in advanced if fires are permitted in that location and inquire about a fire permit which is required in most areas. To find out if the location you plan on camping is fire permitted and a permit is required contact the U.S. Forest Service for that area.
  • Use local firewood only. Do not bring in your own wood if you’re traveling more than 50 miles away. Some campgrounds have restrictions regardless of your traveled miles. Why you wonder? It’s to avoid bringing in over insects into the forest. For more information, visit: dontmovefirewood.org

Tips For Backcountry Campfires

  • Be sure to check with the U.S. Forest Service if fires are permitted in the area you plan on backpacking. In some high-elevation wilderness destinations, campfires are prohibited. Some reasons is because poorly tended fires have escalated into ruinous wildfires.
  • Know the fire restrictions before you head out into the backcountry. If heading to a self service trail head, look for posted information regarding fire.
  • If you’re in an area where campfires are permitted be sure to use an existing fire ring if one has been left behind.

Building a Safe Campfire

  • Build campfires away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, rotten stumps, logs, dry grass and leaves.
  • Keep your campfire small. A good bed of coals or a small fire surrounded by rocks gives plenty of heat. Be sure to use an existing fire ring.
  • Never leave your campfire unattended. Even a small breeze could quickly cause the fire to spread.

Putting out a Campfire

  • Keep plenty of water handy and have a shovel for throwing dirt on the fire if it gets out of control.
  • Be sure your match is out cold. Break it so you can feel the charred portion before carefully discarding it.
  • Drown the fire with water. Make sure all embers and sticks are wet. Move rocks–there may be burning embers underneath.
  • Stir the remains, add more water and stir again. Be sure all wood has been put out and cooled. Smaller pieces are easier to put out.
  • Feel above the fire with the back of your hand. Make sure it is out cold.

For more great information on campfire basics, safety and restrictions, visit:

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