‘Just use common sense’: Tips to building safe campfires during dry conditions

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– While having a campfire can be one of the highlights of the camping experience, they can also become dangerous in these hot, dry conditions.

According to the National Park Service, nearly 85 percent of wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans, in the forms of unattended campfires, burning debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson.

Luke Dreckman, District Park Supervisor, said that when it comes to building a campfire in these hot and dry conditions, you want to make sure they’re small and contained in the firepit, so they’re not getting too big or the ashes aren’t falling outside of the firepit. Building fires that are not in a fire pit are not allowed in state parks.

Some of the concerns that those working in the parks have about campers building the fires is that they will become too big and get out of control, potentially catching the trees or grasses on fire and the fire spreading.

Here are some tips from the recreation.gov for campfire safety:

  • Use existing fire circles or pits if available
  • Do not build a fire in dry or windy conditions, especially if there are fire restrictions in place
  • Build the fire at least 15 feet away from tent walls, shrubs or other flammable materials
  • When building the campfire on your campsite, pick a spot that is downwind from your tent and gear, as well as protected from wind gusts
  • Clear a 10 foot wide diameter area with no limbs or branches hanging over the fire pit
  • Circle the pit with rocks if not using a ring or existing fire pit
  • Build a small fire that stays well within the pit, using the three types of wood: tinder, kindling and fuel
  • Make sure to extinguish the fire properly; let the campfire burn down to ashes if possible

Dreckman said to make sure that you are not burning trash in the firepits, especially cardboard, because it is light and debris can fly through the air, potentially causing fires in other areas of the parks.

When extinguishing the campfire, make sure there is no smoke smoldering or red hot ashes, he said. Make sure that the fire is completely out and there is no hot coals that the wind could re-ignite flame, or carry the hot coal outside of the fire pit.

Worse case scenario is potential massive wildfires, like the ones in California and Canada right now, Dreckman said.

Campfires being prohibited in parks depends on your counties burn bans and the restrictions of those bans, Dreckman said.

“Some of those burn bans, you know, prohibit all fires,” he said. “Some of them allow as long as they are authorized in an enclosed fire pit.”

Dreckman said that campers should check those burn bans before making a campfire.

Right now, the parks in the Southeastern portion of South Dakota banning fires is something that hasn’t been discussed as far as Dreckman knows.

“It always can be a possibility depending on the year or the precipitation and moisture that we have,” he said.

So far, they haven’t had any major issues with campfires in the parks that Dreckman supervises. The biggest issues that they have had are people building the fires too big and the embers falling outside of the pit and causing little grass fires.

It’s good for people to have water on hand and be prepared to extinguish those fires as need be.

Depending on the severity of a campfire getting out of control, it could have a substantial impact on the park, Dreckman said. They could lose trees, park space, grass, picnic tables and other things across the park.

If there was one thing Dreckman could say to campers who are building fires in these conditions, he would tell them to “just use common sense and keep the fires, you know, under control, to a reasonable size and keep them contained within the firepits.”

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