I can't lie—fire is fun. Bonfires at the beach, campfires, dinner under the stars, fireworks on the fourth of July—they're fun to build, fun to light, fun to watch, and there's something very primal in the way they represent man's first triumph over nature.
Of course, fires can also quickly get out of control and become dangerous, proving man's limitations in the face of natural forces.
Enjoying fires safely this summer means making them and putting them out responsibly, and that means having the right knowledge in your head and the right tools at hand. Here are a few tips for keeping your fires in check, making for a safe and happy summer for everyone.
Clear the Area Around Your Fire
A ring of stones on the ground doesn't create a magical fire barrier, and even a dedicated fire pit can send out sparks, embers and coals. If there's any brush, debris, clothing, or gear around the fire, you're putting yourself, your stuff, and everyone around you at risk. A well-defined perimeter for your fire—such as a ring of stones or a fire pit, for example—is a good start, but the surrounding area needs to be swept clear, too. Bare dirt/sand/concrete should be the only thing in the immediate vicinity of the fire.
For a modest-size campfire, you should have at least three feet of space all around the central fire pit. Larger fires create more heat and can send sparks and flames further out and need a larger area cleared, making them inappropriate in many settings. Don't build a fire bigger than you can manage in the space you have.
Starting and Stopping Your Fire Safely
Monitoring a fire while it's burning is obviously important, but many wildfires and structural fires are started by unsafe practices when they're lit and when they are put out. Lighter fluid and other accelerants make fires especially dangerous, and discarded matches or kindling also contribute to fires inadvertently spreading right from the lighting process.
Try not to use any accelerants to get your fire going—if you know how to build a fire and have the necessary kindling on hand, it really isn't necessary. There are also kindling products like SGTKNOTS fire-starting jute cord available that are safer, more reliable, more lightweight, and more useful than a small bottle of lighter fluid. A well-built fire is easy to get going and to maintain; get the know-how rather than taking shortcuts, and of course dispose of any matches by putting them in the fire itself, not in any trash receptacle or on the ground.
When it's time to put out the fire, make sure you actually put it out—and then sit there and watch for five minutes to make sure it's truly out. Use liquid, which carries the heat away (dirt traps it in), and if you simply stomp your fire out you'll need to linger a lot longer to make sure the coals don't relight.
Practice fire safety by always having water or sand handy to put out any flames that aren't contained in your fire pit, and let a bit of paranoia keep your pyromania at bay. You'll keep the outdoors a safe, fun place for everyone to visit, and that's worth a little extra care.