Keep your camping trips safe and memorable with these campfire tips

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May 20, 2021

Many of us enjoy a campfire because it evokes memories of past camping trips with family and friends. We sit around the fire and talk, laugh and enjoy the company. The warmth of the moments rivals the heat from the campfire.

Consider ways to build a safe campfire as you start your summer camping preparations. Also, keep in mind that our drier than normal spring weather is a concern for Oregon and the West. Be sure to research conditions for the area near where you’re camping before you head out. Fire restrictions may be in place at the park, county or state level. The Oregon State Parks website will post the latest information about campfires in state parks.

“Regularly reviewing campfire safety practices, even if you’re a seasoned camper, is a good habit,” said Chris Havel, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) associate director. “It’s especially important if you’re camping with children or folks that are learning about responsible outdoor recreation.  If you have a question or a concern, talk with a park ranger or camp host.”

OPRD offers the following tips for a safe and enjoyable campfire, and to continue the tradition of great camping memories for everyone.

  •  Maintain campfire flames at knee height, or roughly two feet high. A smaller flame helps prevent ash and embers from rising into the trees or dry vegetation. If you see the wind stirring up embers, play it safe and put the fire out.
  • Only build campfires in the existing fire ring in your campsite. Fire rings are placed in areas with buffer zones and away from vegetation. Don't use the campfire as a trash can. Throw away leftover food in garbage and cans and containers can be recycled if available in the campground.
  • Always keep plenty of water nearby so you can use it to safely put out the campfire. Drown the flames with water and carefully stir the embers to make sure everything is wet. The stirring step is important: ash and wood debris often maintain heat and embers unless they are drowned out.
  • Beach campfires should be on open sand and away from driftwood or vegetation. Slowly pour water on your beach fire to put it out. Don’t pour the water too quickly because hot sand can fly up and hit anyone nearby. Also, don’t use sand to put out a beach fire. Covering the fire with sand will insulate the coals, keeping them hot enough to burn someone hours or even days later.
  • For propane fire rings, follow the same safety precautions you would with a log-based campfire. The use of propane fire rings may vary statewide, depending on local conditions.
  • Make sure everyone in your campsite is familiar with campfire safety, including children. Always keep an eye on your campfire; many accidental fires are started because campers left their fire unattended for “just a minute.”

During May, the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, the Office of Emergency Management, Keep Oregon Green, the U.S. Forest Service, OPRD and other federal, state and local emergency and response agencies are promoting programs and messages encouraging the public to work together in their local communities to prevent the risk of wildfire.

Information about recreation and wildfire safety is at keeporegongreen.org.

Some parks are open for day-use and camping, with reduced services. Check the Park Status Map and FAQ for details.