hLike the ocean or the wilderness, fire is something that—while useful and potentially lifesaving—needs to be respected and managed with care. There have been many instances throughout the years where neglectful, careless, or inexperienced people control of their campfires and inadvertently started much larger scale wildfires. You can avoid such a disaster by implementing a few precautions when you build a fire at your own campsite, and today we’ll explore how.

Reducing the risk of causing a wildfire starts before you set foot on the trail. Before you arrive at the park or forest, contact local your DNR about any fire danger warnings in the area. These warnings may also be posted on signs or at information bulletin boards at ranger stations or roadside facilities. Be sure of what the regulations and restrictions are and follow them exactly. Failing to do so can lead to fines or a trip to court. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

If you’re permitted to keep an open flame where you’re camping, do so with caution and try to keep the fire small to maintain manageability. Don’t use paper to ignite the kindling, as floating, flaming paper pieces can start fires if they land on dry tinder away from camp. Instead of paper, use wax or woodchip fire starters, which are simple and quick to ignite a campfire.

While your campfire is going, be sure to keep an eye on it at all times. Even a small campfire can get out of control with a brief breeze or an ember that pops out of the fire ring. Once you’re finished using the fire, extinguish it thoroughly.

During dry seasons and spells, avoiding an open flame altogether is probably the best choice. You’ll be without s’mores for a night or two, but you can plan meals that don't require flame for preparation, such as cereal, dried fruit, or pre-packages meals that require you to add water. For dehydrated meals that require boiling water, you can use a backpacking stove to cook. Even backpacking stoves, though, should not be placed on dry wood or near dry vegetation when in use, but rather on a rock or the bare ground.

The effects of a wildfire last for decades, and can change human, wildlife, and ecosystems forever. It only takes a few minutes of campfire safety to avoid those tragedies from happening. Not only will doing so ensure that you have a safe experience, but it will help preserve the wilderness for years to come. 

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