WVDOF Urges Caution when Building Campfires

dad and son roasting marshmallows over the campfire

Follow these steps to ensure a safe and happy night roasting marshmallows.

Ah, those lazy summer nights!

Kicking back by the campfire, making s’mores and telling ghost stories … there’s nothing else quite like it, is there?

That’s why , to keep those memories enjoyable, it’s important that campers always follow fire safety rules.

sign at beechfork campground about preventing forest fires

According to the National Park Service, nearly 85 percent of wildfires are caused by humans, and many of those human-caused fires are the result of campfires left unattended.

The West Virginia Division of Forestry urges precaution in building, maintaining and extinguishing campfires. If you allow a fire you have started to escape and it causes a wildfire or forest fire, you will be subject to fines ranging from $100 to $1,000, with an additional civil penalty of $200.

Campers are urged to follow these safety rules when building their fires:

Picking your campfire spot

  • If your campsite has an existing fire pit, use it!
  • If not, and pits are allowed, choose a spot at least 15 feet from tent walls, shrubs, trees and other flammable objects. Avoid sites near low-hanging branches.
  • Choose an open, level location away from flammables like decaying leaves.
  • Choose a spot that protected from wind gusts.
Campfire burning at dusk

Preparing your campfire pit

  • Clear a 10-foot diameter around the site, removing debris like grass, twigs and leaves.
  • Dig a pit in the dirt about a foot deep.
  • Circle the pit with rocks.

Building your campfire

  • Keep a source of water, a bucket and shovel nearby at all times.
  • Gather tinder, kindling, and fuel (larger pieces of wood) from the ground and stack wood sources upwind away from the fire.
  • Start with a loose pile of tinder in the center of the pit, then stack on the kindling.
  • Ignite the tinder with a match or lighter. (Discard cold matches into the fire.)
  • As the fire grows, add more tinder and gently blow at the base of the fire.
  • To keep the fire going, add kindling and fuel (the larger firewood.)
  • Keep watch over your fire at all times!
Top view of completely extinguished campfire ring

Extinguishing your campfire

  • If possible, allow the wood to burn completely to ash.
  • Pour water on the fire, drowning ALL embers, not just the red ones. If you do not have water, stir sand or dirt into the embers with a shovel to bury the fire.
  • Use your shovel to scrape remaining sticks or logs to remove any embers. Continue adding water, sand or dirt until all material is cool.

For more information, see Smokey Bear’s Campfire Safety Guide. Remember, only you can prevent wildfires!

Want to learn more about campfire safety or forestry in general? Follow @wvforestry on Facebook and Twitter.

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