ESSENTIAL SKILLS

Fire Safety Tips: How To Stay Safe and Protect the Environment Next Time You’re Out in the Woods

Relaxing By the Fire
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

A fire is essential on any camping trip, but it is important to make sure your campfire is safe and responsible. There are 75,000 wildfires reported every year in the United States alone. Humans caused 9 out of every 10 or 67,500 of the wildfires reported last year.

The effects of wildfires are widespread. They burn 7 million acres of land and destroy nearly 2,500 buildings each year. While wildfires can happen naturally from lightning striking dry brush, it is immensely important that we keep our forests safe by doing everything we can to prevent wildfires and stop them from destroying beautiful camping and exploring areas.

In this article I’ll explore some fire safety tips to help you keep your campsite safe and what to do if you find yourself in a dangerous situation. It is always important to have a fire extinguisher around and to make sure everyone knows how to use it properly. Make Smokey proud and do your part to keep our forests safe.

Clean Woods

Causes of Wildfires and How To Prevent Them

Campfires

Campfires are one of the main causes of wildfires and unsurprisingly so. Before having a campfire, make sure to create a proper burning area. Make sure to check your local regulations before having a campfire. If it is an unusually dry season, please understand the risks that go hand in hand with starting a fire.

If there is not already a campfire pit available to you, you should dig a small pit clear from any overhanging branches. Keep your pit at a 3 foot radius or less in order to keep the fire at a size that can be controlled more easily.

Clear the 5 foot area around the pit of all twigs, branches, brush, and anything else flammable. It is recommended to clear all the way down to bare soil. Make sure to keep your shovel and a bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby in case of any emergencies.

If you use a match to light your fire, make sure it has significantly cooled before tossing it. Then, finally, after lighting your fire, NEVER leave the fire unattended.

Campfire in the Woods

When you are ready to extinguish your campfire, you should douse it with water. Use enough to cover all of the embers. Once the embers are wet, use your shovel to mix them with some surrounding soil. Mix them thoroughly until you are positive that every bit of the embers is wet.

Wait the proper amount of time until everything is cool to the touch. Be careful when checking, but you should feel any unburnt logs, the rocks surrounding your fire pit, and the embers. If you think everything is okay, remember it could never hurt to splash a little extra water over the coals to ensure everything is safe.

While it may seem like a pain, proper campfire safety is vital to keeping yourself and the surrounding area safe from uncontrollable wildfires.

Fireworks

Everyone likes to celebrate, but, just like Coors says, it is important to celebrate responsibly. Before you even attempt using fireworks please make sure they are legal in your area. Laws on fireworks tend to vary greatly between different states and counties.

Fireworks in the Woods

It only takes a second of research to protect yourself from legal trouble. The laws won’t deter everyone, but they are in place for your safety and the safety of those around you.

Be extremely careful when preparing to set off fireworks. Take the time to read the precautionary labels and instructions to ensure you know how to properly light and position them. Not only will this keep you safe, but it will also help you achieve the best results.

Never let kids have fireworks. While Pop-Its are okay, it is important to recognize that there is a fine line between what children can and cannot handle safely. Keep a couple buckets of water and a fire extinguisher around.

Finally, in preparation of setting off fireworks, make sure to find a clear area with no dry brush. It is important that your fireworks don’t set fire to something a great distance from you.

People in the Wods

When lighting the fireworks, only light one at a time. It might seem cool to have a spectacular display of 94 fireworks, but even the professionals have problems sometimes.

If you have multiple fireworks strung together, it greatly increases the chances of an accident as well as magnifying the effects of an accident. Keep a bucket of water nearby to discard spent fireworks and matches. If a firework is a dud, do not re-light it. Wait a few minutes then safely dispose of it in your bucket of water.

Your safety and the safety of those around you isn’t worth compromising over getting one firework to light. If there is ever an unsafe situation regarding fireworks, call your local fire department immediately. There is no need to take risks with your safety.

Burning Waste

It’s common in the country and other remote locations to burn off natural waste like leaves, twigs, and weeds. While this can be convenient, it is also a serious undertaking. It doesn’t take much for your controlled fire to get out of hand very quickly.

Waste Burning in the Woods

Before burning off your natural waste be sure to check your local laws to make sure it is legal. Again, it is less of a hassle to simply haul your waste off than it is to deal with a wildfire or hefty fine. If you are permitted to burn off your garbage, you should make sure to be aware of the weather conditions. If it is especially dry, you should not be burning brush.

The biggest danger when burning off waste is the wind. It is very easy to lose control of a pile of leaves if they’re caught in the wind. Burning leaves blowing around present a serious hazard to the environment and to you.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you never burn on windy days. If you notice the wind picking up, put your fire out immediately. It is also advised to split your waste into manageable piles that will be easier to burn and control. Burning one large pile is significantly more dangerous.

 Cleaning the Woods

Burning waste is a difficult thing to do, but if done properly it can save you a great deal of time. Make sure to use your common sense to prevent dangerous situations. When putting your brush fire out, you should follow the same steps outlined for putting out a campfire. Always be sure you are prepared.

Smoking

Cigarettes very well may be the most common cause of unwanted fires. While smoking is not advised there are ways to make sure you prevent ash from lighting dry brush and to dispose of your cigarettes safely.

Before you smoke, make an effort to look around for any signs that may indicate that smoking is not allowed. If it is allowed, take a second to check your surroundings for anything that could light easily and to make sure wing won’t carry hot ash. Always make sure to have an ashtray present.

While smoking, if you notice your ash blowing around, put the cigarette out immediately and wait for the wind to die down or find an area shielded from the gusts. Never knock ash onto the ground. It is both disrespectful to campsites and a hazard for starting wildfires.

Smoke in the Woods

After you’re finished, the safest way to dispose of your cigarette is in a glass of water. If that is not an option, you should put the cigarette out in your ashtray and then place it in a contained location to cool before disposing.

Vehicles

Vehicles are often overlooked as a fire hazard, but can easily ignite dry brush. Make sure to park in designated parking areas and to be mindful of your surroundings. If you know of any problems your vehicle has that could result in leaking hot fluids or any other hazard you should refrain from driving it in forested areas.

When parking you should always stay in designated areas. If there are no designated areas you should look to locate a spot free of brush and preferably with just raw dirt underneath. It is surprisingly easy for your car’s exhaust to light dry brush.

ATV in the Woods

You should keep a fire extinguisher somewhere in your car as well. If you have any car problems that result in smoke or fire, it will help keep you safe and prevent fires from spreading.

If you are driving an off-road vehicle like an ATV or Gator, be sure that it has a working spark arrester. Use of an improper spark arrester can result in fires.

In Case of a Wildfire

Stay Up to Date With the Situation

Make sure to have some way to stay up to date with nature and wildfire news. While a smart phone is a valuable resource, spotty reception can lead to them being worthless in remote locations.

Green Woods

It is advised that you carry some type of radio that is able to both receive and communicate messages. Being able to communicate with first responders can be the difference in making it out alive. They will be able to tell you if it is safe to evacuate certain directions and in some cases will be able to find you and get you out of harm’s way.

Being unaware of the situation is incredibly dangerous. You may think it is impossible for a wildfire to sneak up on you, but they can spread at alarming rates. In fact, they can move at up to 15 miles per hour. It is very easy for a wildfire to block your evacuation route and leave you in a dire situation.

Take any advisement from the news and local responders seriously. Again, you might think it would be impossible for a wildfire to sneak up on you, but you would be surprised how easily you can become stranded in a dangerous situation.

Plan Ahead

If you are going to an area prone to wildfires, it is important to have a plan in case the worst things happen. Make sure you know how to contact emergency responders and where to go to find any information. As suggested above, it is recommended that you bring some type of radio in case phone reception becomes spotty.

Camping in the Woods

Protect The Area

If you do find yourself in an area that could be affected by an active wildfire, make sure to pay attention to news warnings. If you need to leave immediately do so, but if you have an opportunity to clear brush away from any structures you should take the opportunity to help protect them from the fire.

Try to clear brush from around important buildings. This includes piles of leaves, plants, and clearing out the gutters if possible. While it is no guarantee that your building will survive the blazes, these simple steps increase the likelihood of the building’s survival significantly.

Always be sure to leave with enough time to get to safety. There is no need to risk being caught in the fire. Your safety should be your number one priority. Evacuate immediately if you are advised to.

Evacuate

The safest place to be during a wildfire is a safe distance away. Never try to cut it close and avoid evacuation. Leave yourself an appropriate amount of time to pack up necessities and get to safety.

Woods Camping

Always have an evacuation plan when you’re staying in an area prone to wildfires. Know where the roads lead and make sure you can effectively navigate the area with a map. While your evacuation route could potentially be blocked, it is always good to have a plan in mind. Always be prepared to improvise and never take risks when leaving the area.

You should pack for your safety! Bring food and water along with your radio. Some spare batteries, a first aid kit, and any medicine you take regularly are important too. If you are relying on your cell phone, be sure to bring chargers and extra batteries if you can.

Make sure you have a map and some money to be able to get yourself to somewhere to stay and buy essentials. You should also grab copies of important personal documents. This will save you headaches if they end up being destroyed.

Always remember that experts will know best when to evacuate. Do not take risks with your safety.

Recover

After a wildfire you should be very careful to re-enter the area. Once you can safely enter the area you can begin getting your things together and rebuilding and replacing anything that was destroyed.

Drive safely and do not try to pass downed trees, poles, or powerlines. Wait for them to be cleared. Once you arrive back, you should be extremely careful entering any buildings that were affected by the fire. They can be structurally unsound and contain hotspots that may flare up.

Be careful not to inhale too much dust. You should wet down the area to keep dust down and prevent flare-ups.

Inspect the area for power and to check for an embers that could cause another ignition. Look for smoke and embers, specifically on the roof and in the attic. Wear appropriate shoes, glove, and other clothes to ensure you do not get injured by debris. Remember, most nails and screws will become exposed if the wood around them burns.

Fire Pit in the Woods

Clean your things and keep a list of anything that needs to be rebuilt or replaced. Contact your insurance company to begin resolving the situation.

Inspect trees and buildings for anything unstable that could cause injury. Mark everything accordingly and make everyone aware of potential dangers.

Better be safe than sorry

It is incredibly important to be safe with fire. You can very easily lose control of your fire and create a wildfire that can injure you and burn down the surrounding area. You can minimize your risks by following basic fire safety tips and putting your common sense to use. Do you have any tips on how to control your fires more effectively?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Russell McCarty
Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.

  • Scott Hamman

    In any kind of emergency, it is vital that you’re able to communicate with people on the outside. We hike a lot in areas that are prone to wildfires, so we always keep radios on hand (we use the Motorola MH230R 23-Mile Range 22-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio). The audio on them is clear and we also use them to pick up weather channels.

  • Russell McCarty

    Thanks for these useful experience with your camping gadget Scott! One way to keep safe is to make sure you can communicate well with the outside world. With so many new technologies today, there’s no excuse not to invest in a reliable gadget such as a two-way radio.

  • Jason Marnecheck

    One good tip to prevent wildfires is to dig a little trench around your campfire site. Always good to have a trench shovel in with your gear. I use the Foho Folding Camping Trench Shovel. Its ability to fold makes it easy to carry and it’s comfortable to dig with. It’s the perfect backpacking shovel, in my opinion!

  • Russell McCarty

    That’s a great tip Jason and thank you! I know our readers appreciate this nugget of wisdom. With so many forest fires destroying homes, it’s good to be vigilant and to stay safe.

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