Local experts explain the proper way to build a campfire
There’s more to building a safe, environmentally responsible campfire than just stacking up some wood and lighting it up. A solid fire that will burn anywhere from two to six hours requires the right components.
Before building a campfire, be sure to check if there are any daily burn bans in the area at weather.gov, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at NOAA.org, or your state’s department of natural resources. Wisconsin, for example, has a map on its website, dnr.wi.gov, that features posts on fire dangers, wildfires, and prescribed burn activity. If you don’t want to leave it to chance, the state also has a free burning permit that can be obtained online.
“Though burn bans don’t often occur in our area, as our fuel types are not as susceptible to large-scale wildfires, caution should always be taken when high wind and dry conditions exist,” explains Daniel Hebreard, president of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
Many campsites provide or sell firewood. If not, usually stores close to your campsite will. It’s important to use local wood, so new insects are not introduced into the campsite’s ecosystem. A two-hour fire requires one to two bundles, or four to 10 sticks of wood. Three to five bundles of wood (12 to 25 sticks), will last about four hours. For a six-hour fire, use five to seven bundles 25 to 35 sticks).
First, ensure the campsite doesn’t have any low-hanging branches or excessive brush and that your living space is far enough away from the campfire to prevent ignition from heat or sparks. Clear away any flammable materials from the pit area. Sand or gravel are best for the bottom, alongside a metal device called a fire ring, which is used to contain campfires and prevent them from spreading and turning into wildfires.
- FUEL UP
“Every fire needs three things to burn: fuel, heat, and oxygen. We call this model the fire triangle,” says Hebreard. “Without any one of these components, your fire won’t ignite.”
For fuel, some sort of kindling is required, such as leaves, small twigs, paper—even dryer sheets. To build a campfire you can cook on (see recipe above), arrange your wood in the shape known as the log cabin: Place two larger pieces of wood parallel to each other with some room in between them to form the base, then turn 90 degrees and place two slightly smaller pieces on top and perpendicular to form a square. Add tinder inside the square and continue adding a layer or two around the outside. Finish with a layer of kindling across the top.
The kindling needs to be dry or it will take away the next element in the triangle—heat—that usually comes from a match or a lighter. Don’t use flammable liquids, like lighter fluid, to start a campfire. The fire will get too large too quickly.
“The final component is oxygen, which is present in the air as long as you don’t smother the fire,” Hebreard says. “Make sure there are some gaps in your logs to allow air flow or your fire will struggle to get going.”
Putting out a fire is extremely important, but not always done properly, Hebreard notes. By having water and a shovel nearby, you can completely extinguish the fire right away and ensure it stays out. When it’s time to put the fire out, dump water on it, stir it with the shovel, then dump more water on it.
Be Smoke Savvy
Nearly nine out of 10 wildfires nationwide are caused by humans. For information on preventing wildfires, visit the USDA Forest Service website, smokeybear.com.
Stuffed French Toast
This Fresh Off the Grid recipe will make a tasty and easy breakfast. Add some bacon for a double delight.
Yield: Serves 4
Prep time: 25 minutes
1 pound strawberries
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
12 slices Texas toast
1 stick of butter
- Hull and quarter the strawberries and place in a bowl with 2 tablespoons sugar; stir to coat. Let sit at least 10 minutes until the berries begin to turn syrupy.
- In a separate bowl, beat eggs with milk, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and cinnamon.
- In a nonstick pan over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon of butter.
- Dip the bread in the egg-milk mixture, letting the bread absorb the liquid for a few seconds, then flip and soak the other side for a few seconds. Lift out of mixture and let excess drip off.
- Place coated bread slices in the pan. Once toast is golden on one side (about 3 minutes), flip and cook the other side for an additional 2 minutes or so. Remove and set aside.
- Heat a second tablespoon of butter and repeat the process until all the toast is cooked.
- To serve, spread mascarpone cheese over the top of a slice of toast, spoon some of the berries and their syrup on, then repeat with another slice to “stuff” the French toast. Drizzle on some maple syrup and enjoy.