This entry is loosely based on an original piece written by Steve Dragoni of Pilgrim VSU (this Researcher's local Venture Scout Unit). Fire is dangerous, so find out more from an experienced person before attempting anything described in this entry.
What Is a Campfire?
A campfire is the fire you build at a camp or weekend/evening event in order to cook, sit around, keep warm, sing around and occupy the more fire-enthralled people present who would otherwise get in the way. Campfires are built outdoors and are not for burning garden rubbish or effigies of Guy Fawkes.
What Do I Need for a Campfire?
The important thing to remember when building a campfire is the fuel supply. This should be very, very big and some of it should be relatively dry; the rest will dry out if you get a good fire going. It goes without saying, the best thing to put on a campfire (apart from sausages and marshmallows) is wood. Any wooden object will do, but try and avoid burning anyone's antique furniture.
It is advisable to burn the wood in small pieces as burning your entire woodpile in one go may look impressive, but it means you'll have to collect loads more wood later. Burning all of the wood at once may also lead to one or more of the following scenarios:
You may be chased off the campsite for burning all of the wood for the weekend.
You may be unable to get close enough to the fire to put dinner on it.
You may attract passing fire engines; this could damage your beer supply.
You may end up sat too far apart in the circle to easily pass the tomato sauce.
To get the desired 'small' pieces of wood generally involves having to break what you've gathered up into pieces. This can be achieved by using a variety of implements, including axes, saws, sledgehammers, mallet, Doctor Marten boots1, and so on.
Matches or some other form of fire lighting materials are generally required to start the fire. The use of a magnifying glass to focus the Sun's rays and start the fire is not to be recommended. Especially while camping at night. Building the fire and hoping for a lightning strike is also not considered a good way to start a fire; this generally requires divine intervention and the cursing of the gods.
A supply of water is useful in order to put out the fire at the end of the evening (see below).
The following items are optional but sometimes useful:
- Quaffing items
- Beers (to drink at the fire)
- Torch (so that you can find your tent after a late night campfire)
- Someone to attract smoke
- A metal bin to carry away the ashes in
Building the Fire
The building of the fire is done in several steps:
Collect the wood and kindling. Kindling is the very small, very dry pieces of wood that are used to start the fire.
If the fire is not being built on a pre-existing fire pit remove the top layer of earth and grass. This will allow you to replace the grass afterwards and so no one will be any the wiser about the fact that there was a campfire there.
Observe from what direction the wind is blowing. You want to build your fire so that the wind blows down it.
Put down a large flat piece(s) of wood, which you are going to build the campfire upon. Many instructors tell you to put down the small pieces of wood first, but putting down the large piece of wood first ensures that there is a source of fuel under the fire and prevents the fire being built on cold and wet ground.
Scrunch up some dry paper into small balls and place on the wood. Copies of these instructions (yes, the ones you're reading) can be used but please ensure that you have read to the end first, otherwise you may not know what to do next. Take some small, very dry pieces of wood and by placing them on end build a pyramid around the paper. If you have no paper, pieces of bark or small pieces of kindling may be used but these are often more difficult to light.
Make sure that you have some larger pieces of wood near at hand so that you can place them over the fire once it is going.
Once the paper and small pieces of wood are alight, place the larger pieces of wood over the fire; these should be slightly above the fire in order not to put it out.
Larger pieces of wood can then be put on once the fire is going well. It is normal to put the wood on lengthwise so that you can push it inwards as it burns through.
Once the campfire is built it can be used for a variety of activities. It is, however, important to keep someone watching the fire so that it does not go out, or burn out of control. A happy equilibrium is required; this means that wood must be occasionally placed upon the burning pyre and escaping fires extinguished.
After the fire has finished, pour lots of water over the embers to extinguish it. You will be engulfed in steam.
A useful point to remember when in forested areas is that when you leave the place of the fire (it being suitably extinguished), it is advised in some survival books to put two pieces of wood in an X shape over the cold fireplace, so, in the unlikely event of a forest fire, investigators know that it wasn't your fault and that you don't get into trouble for causing it.
Other Common Campfire Traditions
Many people put large logs down the side of the fire. These look nice and keep the fire in one place. Campfire traditions involve skits and sketches which often involve someone getting wet. Speak to an experienced camper to find out what these are. Some campsites insist that fires be built on designated platforms or on metal so as to reduce the likelihood of uncontrolled fires.
As you may have realised, fire burns. Wood, logs, and gas burn well. People don't. Therefore, it is advisable not to allow yourself to get burned. This seemingly obvious point is very easy to achieve, but is also just as easy to get wrong. There are a number of precautions that one can take to ensure that this does not happen:
Place stones (non-porous ones only, as otherwise they will explode) or large logs around the fire to prevent it from spreading to places you don't want it to go.
Light all fires well away from things that are not intended to be burnt eg, tents, wood pile, cars, gas bottles and so on.
Do not use petrol, lighter fluid, aerosol cans, gas cylinders or anything else that goes 'voomf' or 'bang' when burnt to help ignite the fire. If you do, you could end up going 'voomf' as well.
Always have a bucket of water or sand (mud will do at a pinch) to help put out the fire at the end or if something goes wrong.
Get permission from the landowner whose land you are having a fire on and check that it is OK to do so.
If your clothing catches on fire dive onto the ground and roll about until the flames go out. For this reason, it is not a good idea to wear flammable clothing while near fires.
If you get burnt, run cold water over the burn until no pain is felt or for 10 minutes, whichever is longer. Do not apply a lint or gauze dressing, and depending on the size of the burn, seek medical attention.
Don't jump in the fire.
Follow these safety tips and use your common sense, and a happy time with fire will be had by all.