Campfire safety

Tips to help ensure your late summer campfire is safe and enjoyable.

Variable weather during the late summer and fall months can lead to unexpected increased risk of wildfire. Michigan State University Extension asks that you do your part to protect your assets and our Michigan forests by being Firewise when you are enjoying a late summer campfire around your home or favorite camping spot.

When cool evenings begin to remind us that fall is just around the corner Michiganders think about enjoying a nice evening around a campfire. Below are some things to consider before settling down with your next campfire.

Michigan is a state that has a surprisingly active fire history. Throughout the years, the Michigan landscape has evolved with fire, and some of the trees in the Northern Lower Peninsula (NLP), like jack pine, actually depend on fire. In addition, the well-drained soils in the NLP mean that the soil, and the plants and trees growing in the soil, can dry out quickly after a summer rain.

So far in 2015, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) reports that there have been 318 wildfires, and 7 percent of those, or 22 fires, have been started by campfires. Note that these numbers are from fires that have prompted MDNR response, and that other fires responded to by local, county and federal firefighters are not included in the count.

Plan ahead for your next campfire

The most important part of building a campfire is choosing the right place. The campfire ring should be located on bare mineral soil, taking care to remove flashy fuels, like grasses and leaves that can easily catch fire, for at least ten feet from the campfire location. It is also important to choose a location that is at least thirty feet from any structure and ten feet from a wood pile. Be sure to use rocks or a metal ring to keep the fire contained within a small area. Digging out the center of the ring will also help to ensure the fire remains contained. Keep in mind that most fires spread by embers flying through the air and landing on combustible material, so try to keep your fire small and limit the amount of embers by burning only seasoned wood. Lastly, look up! Be sure the campfire ring is not under any tree branches as the heat from a fire can damage hardwood branches and may catch conifers on fire.

Once you have prepared the area, and before you start the campfire, check the fire danger posted for that day in your area. If fire danger is extreme, consider postponing the fire for a less dangerous time. Also take caution if the wind is blowing or if there has not been any rain for a long period of time.

Before you start your campfire, be sure you have some simple equipment on hand to control the fire once you are finished for the night. A shovel for throwing soil on a fire is a good start. Be sure you also have a water source such as a bucket of water, available as backup, and that an adult is always present to monitor the fire. Next step is to enjoy your fire for the evening and have fun!

Never leave a fire unattended

As the night comes to a close, be sure to fully extinguish the fire before walking away. This can be done by adding water to the fire, and stirring it with the shovel. Repeat as necessary to ensure all hot embers are cooled down. As a last step, place the back of your hand close to the extinguished material to see if any heat is being released. If it is, repeat the water and stir steps until no radiant heat is felt.

More information about fire safety in Michigan can be found online.

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