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How is it that one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Most people view the local news reports about forest fires with a sense of detachment. Unfamiliar regions & distant lands. As an outdoor enthusiast, my heart sinks & my eyes tear up when I hear the reports.
beginners tips

Dome Land Fire - Sequoia National Forest 2001

Think before you burn!

A forest fire raging outta control means I am loosing a friend. A place I know. A place I love.

A forested area that will never be the same - not in my lifetime. Fantastic tree filled views can disappear in a day w/ wild winds and flames. Poof! Gone for 20 years or more.

Dirt I have camped on, shady trees I have enjoyed, meadows I have picnicked in, scenery I value. I recall listening to the wind in the trees of a particular forest & the great times I shared with friends. Now it is all just a fond memory. Fire is becoming more and more destructive in California, so please be extremely careful with all flames, stoves, grills, fuels, welders, and smoking devices.


Living in California we all hear about these wild fires which rage out of control for days. We all want to enjoy nature as much as possible. And as long as possible! Follow some simple steps & common sense to make yourself aware of how & when to build a safe camp fire. We are all depending on you to keep it under control.

The western U.S. experiences wildfires every year and YOU do not want to be the cause of this years of catastrophe. Campfire permits are issued at no charge to ensure fire restrictions are followed correctly. Educate yourself on the proper way to tend to a back country fire; with a bit of reading below, you'll have the basics down. Some regions are very strict on their permits & primitive camping. The dry Southern California National Forests may not allow campfires outside of campgrounds at all. If you really wanna primitive camp in California, understand that you may need to drive further to reach the Sierra Nevada mountains or NorCal.

If you wanna camp outside of developed campgrounds in dispersed camping areas, contact rangers first & obtain with free annual fire permit. Check with a ranger on current fire restrictions

Obey the signs, check the winds, & by the way -- NO FIRES, means no fires!!

mapsNOTE: Fire restrictions apply in extreme fire seasons. Always call ahead if conditions are questionable - check local ranger office; USFS list of phone numbers

California Fires

Camp fire permits are valid for stoves, fuel lanterns or campfires. It may be used in any National Forests in Northern California or in the Sierra Nevada. The use of campfires and portable stoves is restricted during periods of high fire danger. Contact the regional Forest Service (USFS rangers office) for updated information, before you depart.

always have on hand:

# 1. shovel
# 2. water
# 3. bucket
# 4. fire permit
  • Use only dead and down wood. Never break branches from standing trees, even if they appear dead.
  • Check above fire pit for overhanging branches.
  • Always have large shovel at your campsite.
  • Bring a bucket for water and quick extinguishing.
  • Keep the fire small & manageable, so it does not get out of control.
  • Remember to fold up camp chairs & lay them down. Winds can blow them into the fire & they will ignite.
  • Before turning in for bed, make sure there are no flames. If wind is expected, dose the fire w/ water.
  • Extinguish old coals & fire pit any time you leave camp, even for a short hike.

See what wildfire did to the Roads End Resort on the Kern River

making a fire ring

Always use an established fire ring if available!

If you must build a new fire ring, select a level spot away from over hanging trees, bushes, or dry grass. Avoid the base of steep hills, as fire travels uphill quickly. Clear a circle 10 feet across down to bare dirt. Hollow out a fire hole two feet across, and five or six inches deep. Pile the soil around the edge of the fire hole.


tending to a camp fire

Pay attention to dry brush near camp, wind conditions, branches over head & embers that pop out of the fire pit. Do not dispose of glass, metal, plastic or aluminum foil into the fire, this just leaves a mess for future campers to find.

Make sure there are no flames when it's bedtime; if so drown the fire. The wind could always pick up when you are asleep. Lay all camp chairs down well away from the fire pit.


put fire dead out

Even if you had a fire the night before & the fire seems out, the hot coals are still cooking way underneath. Pour water on it & hear the sizzling. Keep pouring. Put your fire dead out at least half hour before you start to break camp. Let the coals die down, then pour water over the ashes. Mix muddy water and ashes until all embers are completely out. Kneel down and feel (with the palm of your hand) for any warmth over the fire pit before you vacate camp. If you feel any, pour even more water.

An old washing machine tub works for keeping a fire contained & doesn't scar the earth. Place large rocks underneath to elevate it, so the radiant heat can be evenly distributed around the camp fire.

firewood find firewood dealers

Fire Pits, Camp Fire Hearth

Do Not:

  • do not build your fire on a upward slope. Fire travels up hill fast; plus the winds push it that direction.
  • do notbuild a fire on top of pine needles, cedar duff, or fluffy soil. Dig down to the bare earth, the real soil. Clear fire radius at least 10 feet around pit. Sparks can fly out.
  • do not start you fire with charcoal lighter fluid. There are plenty of products on the market such as fire starter sticks to help with such a task.
  • do not throw plastics, glass or aluminum into the campfire. It is very difficult to clean up.
  • do not build a camp fire (or any fire) in windy conditions.
  • do not build a fire anywhere without a free fire permits issued by a legit agency (BLM, USFS, or CalFire).

    NOTE: Additional restrictions apply in RED FLAG (extreme) fire conditions.

to build a campfire

  • Use existing fire ring when available. This advice helps along with minimum impact camping technics. Don't build a fire against a boulder.
  • Situate your fire at least 10 feet away from tents, trees, roots and flammable items.
  • When using a campfire ring: clear leaves, pines needles & all ground cover a minimum 10 feet diameter.
  • Gather firewood and kindling using only fallen branches or down wood. Check to make sure the wood is dry & seasoned (not green & freshly cut)
  • Read all signs. Many parks and forest even forbid gathering fallen branches. It plays an important role in the ecosystem of the wilderness.

Created with flickr badge.

  • Build a pile of kindling, including paper scraps, dry plant matter and other small, flammable items. On rainy conditions or existing damp wood you may want to try the convenient 'fire starter sticks'. FatWood is a best choice.
  • Create a pyramid of dry twigs and small sticks around the kindling pile. Add a few medium size branches on top of the exiting pyramid. Light the kindling with a match.
  • Add increasingly larger sticks and then logs as the fire grows.
  • Do not create bon fires (taller than 4 feet) in the wilderness or build camp fires under extreme windy conditions.
  • Always leaving enough space between wooden branches for the fire to breathe. You may need to be fan the fire in order to keep the air circulating at first. Paper plates, cardboard, plastic box lid - all works well for this.
  • Before you turn in for bedtime, make sure the fire has no flames - embers only & windy conditions are non-existent.
  • When breaking camp or leaving camp for more than a few minutes make sure to drown your fire completely out. Poor water all over it, until no sizzling sound can be heard. The old left over water at the bottom of the ice chest works great for this.

Prescribed fires or 'controlled burns' by National Forest & Park Services help keep the underlying brush fuel down to a minimum; which helps the forest with carbon in the soil and for decreasing future wild fires.

Learn all you need to know about fire wood.

finding firewood & firewood dealers

Don't forget our Camp Help section to get prepared.
Or, if you really have no idea where to begin, start off with Camp Clueless.

Camp Fires Correctly

Public Lands in California

Campfires in California

California Forest Fires Camp Fires


California Weekends

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