Camp Fires Correctly

desert bonfires

Deserts & beaches are the only places for bonfires.

kill your television

Camp Fires
The heat source, the light source, the cook source, the sock drier, the night supplier, the outdoor LIVING ROOM. The campfire is the center stage for all entertainment, true tales and ghost stories alike.

Since the beginning of time humans have gathered around the campfire at dark. This nightly ritual is built into us on the deepest level. We miss this today. We miss the real conversations, the community, the bonding, the stories, the soul searching. We miss the connection with nature, the fresh air and the great outdoors. The night sky filled with stars and maybe a meteor shower, a hot drink and the glow of the campfire coals. Enjoying the wilderness requires certain skills. FIRE is only ONE skill – for survival, for cooking, for warmth, for safety.

Total Escape is dedicated to those who yearn to camp, often.

In Certain Circles

photo – Charlie Sweeney 2010

Some folks cannot imagine camping without a campfire, but we better get used to it here on the West Coast. Weather patterns swing from years of super-dry drought to deluge and drenching – as we’ve seen of recent in California. Dry conditions means high wildfire dangers, tight camp stove and strict campfire restrictions.

Each California region, National Forests and State Parks have their own fire restrictions, so call ahead to rangers for current fire conditions on the place you wish to visit. Certain mountain locations will ban fires in the back country, fires on the back roads and sometimes in extreme conditions, no fires allowed even inside a developed campground.

Campfire Basics

Campfire Restrictions

fire

California is well known for its unforgiving drought conditions and its seasonal wildfire danger. Always know the fire conditions in the area you plan to camp. Most Southern California regions have banned ‘open campfires’ in forested areas, due to wildfire threat and population density. Call ahead to get an update on road closures and current campfire restrictions. Find California BLM offices & NFS ranger stations

Campfire Permits

If you plan on camping outside of a developed campground, you will need to get a free “camp fire permit”, which can be obtained at the local rangers office.

Find more on FREE camp fire permits

DSCN3700

California Camp Fires

  • RULE # 1 – Never leave a campfire unattended
  • Build campfires in designated rings. Always try to use an existing ring when possible. If you must build a new rock fire ring, follow the guide on FireSafe
  • You will need water source & bucket, plus a decent shovel for building, maintaining and controlling a campfire. BRING enough water & tools with you to control a fire.
  • A ten foot clearance – all around, down to the bare dirt is the best practice. No brush close to the ring, no bushes, no leaves or pine needles. No dry over-hanging tree branches.
  • You might need to clean trash out of the fire pit, so bring heavy duty trash bags, or a spare old box. Shovel comes in handy here.
  • Kindling is key to getting a good fire going fast, so gather more of the small stuff. Wood gathering away from camp is usually better pickens.
  • Use environmentally friendly fire starters (with damp wood, if you must); not the BBQ lighter fluid or gasoline
  • Building fires up against a big boulder scars them w/ black soot, and although it can reflect heat back to you, it is seldom worth the unsightly damage
  • Bring chainsaws or hand saws for cutting your own campfire wood in the forest
  • Gathering wood for fuel — use only dead and down wood
  • A ranger issued “wood cutting permit” is required if you plan on cutting a full cord
  • Firewood page – buying locally, in California
  • Never burn plastics, batteries or other toxic materials in campfires
  • Tossing beer bottle caps into a campfire only litters site for future campers
  • While glass bottle smelting is a real treat among boys at night, which one is actually gonna get their hands dirty & clean up broken glass out of the campfire the following morning?
  • Do not leave any hot coals during the day (if you are away from camp). Winds could pick up.
  • Always douse campfire with water completely when breaking camp. Stir it, feel for heat, and drown it more if you hear sizzling or see bubbling.
  • Read more wild fire / campfire info on our FireSafe page

Drown Fires

Last Final Step

The Final Step of Breaking Camp

 

Campfire Pits & Fire Containers

Campfire Pits & Fire Containers

Stormproof LIghters

Stormproof Lighters

Bear in California

California Black Bears

California Black Bears

Although the grizzly bear image graces the state flag, grizzlies were killed off during the gold rush days. Black bears are found in California mountains and foothills, down to lowest elevations in NorCal. The black bears come in more than one color –  light brown, dark brown, and of course, black. For the most part, bears usually stay away from people.

Some areas are more prone to bear problems due in large part to the overpopulation of tourists and abundance of food provided by them. Certain California National Parks are particularly notorious for their brazen bear populations. Concentrated bear problems are sometimes posted so be very aware.

Bear Habitat

Follow some simple rules:

  • Keep a very clean campsite
  • Clean up all dirty dishes & beverage containers (especially before bedtime)
  • Keep clothing & sleeping bags free of food odors or heavy scents
  • Never leave any type of food garbage outside of a cabin or mountain home
  • Store garbage properly inside a locked, sturdy container inside garage or a shed
  • Stay away from bear cubs, there is sure to be a mother in close proximity
  • Try not to hike alone. Make noise & sing on trails to scare away any unwanted animals.
  • Bear storage canisters are available at sporting good stores & at stores in most National Parks.

Proper Food Storage Outdoors:

Bear Boxes @ Campground

Store food in closed up automobile, not visible. Store food correctly: in trunk of your car, or hidden from sight; in campground food lockers when available.

Lock all food, beverages and coolers in the provided metal bear boxes or bear lockers where available.

Toothpaste, deodorant & anything that has a scent should be thought of as food and stored accordingly.

Bears are so strong they can rip your car door open (in places like Yosemite, where bears are problem and you can get cited for not storing food items properly)

Bears are so strong they can break open a garage door to get to the smelly trash inside, so make sure you utilize the curbside pickup service available in some mountain communities or take a trip to the dump once per week.

carcampers

DO NOT LEAVE FOOD OUT, UNATTENDED, outdoors…
during a picnic lunch, during a barbeque, or dinner at the campfire.
(Birds, dogs, squirrels and wild animals can move in quickly.)

Backpackers should hang food in nylon bag & drape over weak branch in high in tree: hang your food using the counterbalance method. Ranger who issues your wilderness permit can explain the hanging procedure;

2 stuff sacks (with drawstrings) for your food items, and 60 feet of medium weight cord. 2 carabiners make hanging much easier.

Bear Canisters

Bear Canisters

for your food
when exploring the wilderness

hikers tent campers mountains rivers picnic lakes

Bear Repellent / Bear Mace
Bear Pepper Spray

 

Additional Storage Tip

As for storing food inside cars:

If I am primitive car camping on a dirt road area that does not have campgrounds or bear lockers, I store food in my SUV convertible vehicle on the front floorboards with towel over it – with the car alarm set. Any large animal trying to break in will get blasted with alarm noise & possibly run away, plus the noise will wake us up to deal with the intruder.

If a bear does get into your camp area:

  • Make as much noise as possible: yell, bang pots/pans, whistle, air horn and get your bear mace or pepper spray ready in hand
  • Raise your hands up to appear larger
  • Get your entire camp group together, join hands and spread out everyone at the camp should be outside the tents in order to be as effective as possible
  • Throw rocks & small objects
  • If possible, try to get to your car for protection & honk the horn
  • If a bear charges at you, drop to the ground and curl up in a tight ball. Cover your head, face and vital areas. Play dead.

If you encounter a bear on a hiking trail:

  • Make as much noise as possible while walking solo. Hum, sing, talk to the birds. Sing or talk to yourself – out loud.
  • Carry bear spray (mace or pepper) or a weapon for added protection
  • If a bear approaches: stand still, slowly retreat, say a few calming words in a friendly voice and never make eye contact
  • If a bear charges at you, drop to the ground and curl up in a tight ball. Cover your head, face and vital areas. Play dead.

bearcreek

Camp Clean

Minimal Impact Camping

Camping Tread Lightly

Camp Cleaning

  • No Soap in Streams, Creeks or Lakes: Even Biodegradable Soaps is not good for the poor fish downstream.
  • Bring a bucket or wash tub – Wash dishes, clothes & yourself 100′ from streams & lakes
  • Food put away & dishes washed up before bed time. Keeping a clean camp will lessen the chances of wildlife or a bear visit
  • Use existing campsite or rock campfire ring to prevent impacting new areas
  • Pitch tent in cleared camp spots only (when primitive camping). No use trampling new spots.
  • Do not set a tent up in a meadow, next to a creek or on a lake shore. It’s too fragile an environment.
  • Bring extra trash bags (heavy duty lawn type is best) for cleaning any litter you might find at your selected camp site.
  • Sometimes you’ll need to shovel out the whole fire pit (full of glass and trash)  to start a fresh new campfire. Building your fire on top of somebody else’s mess means you’ll be inhaling all their left-over garbage.
Always leave a clean camp

always leave a clean camp

leave no trace

Camp Kitchen Outdoors

Try to keep all food, drinks and cooking to one area of the camp. If you plan to cook over the campfire, this choice will make much more sense. Setting up kitchen area in between the tent and the campfire is usually an excellent spot. Having the vehicle close by for proper food storage is also advised, or use bear boxes if available. If you choose to hang your food in the tree, bring adequate ropes and bags.

The last person still up around the campfire at night should double check the cleanlness camp before retiring for bed. Chances are there is a half-eaten snack or left over beverage that could attract the animals. Oh no, the GARBAGE!! Don’t forgot to put your garbage bag away at night, or dispose of it in a proper trash container. Double bag your garbage if you are concerned with it leaking or smelling up the vehicle.

Food Preparation

Potty Breaks in the Outdoors

shovel

  • Bathroom break in the bushes? Don’t leave your toilet paper trash. Dispose of in your vehicle with a plastic bag or back at camp.
  • For human waste – Bring a shovel, dig holes 8″ deep & pack out all toilet paper. Do not bury paper as animals will just dig it up.
  • Certain areas are so sensitive or overused that all solid waste must be packed out, check for the local regulations.

Camp Hygiene in the Outdoors