October signals the beginning of fall. The weather is cooler, which makes us want to spend more time outdoors. When you live a Simple Life, you begin to think of fun outdoor things to do with your family and friends. One of the best ways to enjoy fall is with a bit of Campfire fun!
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Before You Strike the Match on Your Campfire Fun
Any time you are dealing with fire, you need to consider all aspects of safety first. Even a tiny ember can start a forest fire. No one wants their campfire fun to be ‘doused’ before it even gets started good.
Before I started writing this post, I went to the experts. My friends, Audi and Johnny, are fire fighters. They could tell you some stories about how simple campfire fun quickly got out of hand, all because there was too much fun around the fire and not enough attention being paid to the flames.
Long before you choose to have some campfire fun, consider these safety guidelines first.
- DO NOT use gasoline to start your fire. Although the liquid will ignite, the fumes, which are denser than air, are the true enemy here. The fumes spread fast creating a larger fire risk. Although diesel is more stable, it still isn’t smart to use it to start your fire. Any type of liquid accelerant with the viscosity of gasolines and diesels can quickly get out of hand.
- We all love a big bonfire. However, a campfire should be kept small and within the parameters of the firepit or ring. The bigger the fire the easier and quicker it can get out of control.
- Fall is famous for its windy days. Think not only twice, but three times before you strike a match in the wind. Wind can carry embers, which can then land on other flammable items such as tree branches, drying leaves, and even the house or other structures.
- Never, ever, EVER, leave it unattended. If you must walk away, make sure someone is there to keep an eye on it. At the end of the evening, make every attempt to extinguish the fire. There are two ways to do this:
- 1) Keep a water hose nearby, and douse even the tiniest embers that remain with water. It wouldn’t hurt to water down a three-foot perimeter around the pit, to make certain that any flyaway embers are also doused.
- 2) Keep several five-gallon buckets of dirt close by. When you are ready to go in for the evening, pour the dirt over the fire. Use a rake or shovel, shift through the dirt and ashes, then add a second layer of dirt. Do this until all the remaining embers are out.
- 3) Double check your work, whether you use water or dirt. Even a small ember can start a forest fire, so you want to make certain every ember is extinguished.
Avoid the Burns and Smoke
Where the above guidelines help to keep your fire under control, there are also other safety precautions you need to take for the people gathered around the campfire.
Burns and smoke inhalation are a big risk any time you are near a fire.
- Keep your distance – stay at least 3 feet or more away from the flames
- Don’t take burning sticks of the fire. The embers from a burning stick can spread embers outside of the fire pit or fire ring and cause a fire. They can also land on others, burning their skin, clothes, or hair, and causing serious burn related injuries
- Don’t build it too close to any structure, such as a home, outbuilding, barn, or even a wooden play structure
When it comes to smoke inhalation, Audi says that a campfire is a great time to play ‘Ring Around the Rosie’. She doesn’t mean the actual childhood game, either.
As the wind shifts, so will the smoke. As the smoke moves toward you, pick up your chair and move it one to two spots to your left or right to get out of the direct path. This prevents you from inhaling too much smoke.
According to the the EPA, “The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles, also called fine particulate matter or PM2.5. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they may cause burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses, such as bronchitis.”
With this in mind, add the game of Ring Around the Rosie to your campfire fun. You can even keep track of how many times you have moved in a complete circle. Give a prize to the one who moves the most!
The Best Wood for your Campfire
Before you start stacking wood for your campfire, you need to understand a bit about firewood. In order for it to burn efficiently, it needs to be dry. A fresh cut tree is filled with moisture, which will prevent the log from ‘catching’.
Another tips on choosing your firewood is that dry wood creates less smoke. It also is more aromatic than soft wood, such as pine or willow.
These are a few tips on selecting your firewood:
Oak – this is probably one of the best woods you can use to build a fire. Oak is a dense hardwood, which means it burns longer and hotter.
Hickory – again, Hickory is a hardwood, which helps your fire to last longer, using less wood
Pecan – this is also a hardwood. This is especially a good wood if you are grilling steaks or other meat, as it helps to flavor the food
Black Locust – this is a straight grain hardwood, which makes it easy to split
Hackberry – this wood makes a good fire, but what the Country Boy calls ‘poof wood’. That simply means it is a soft wood. Soft wood burns hot and fast. Hackberry is good to get your fire started but won’t last as long as hardwood.
Sweet Gum is a wood that burns very hot, but also difficult to split. The ‘old timers’ called this wood ‘Creosote Buster’. It was the wood they used to burn off creosote buildup in their chimneys. Sweet Gum is a great wood to use for your campfire but be aware of just how hot the fire can get.
Another thing about sweet gum is it naturally twists when it grows. Consequently, the air trapped between the twisted layers will cause this wood to pop more than others. When wood pops, it may also toss larger embers away from the fire. Watch closely for this and be ready to pour a bit of water on the embers to prevent your fire from spreading outside its intended area.
One consideration about using Pine for your campfire fun is the smell and flavor. Using Pine may make your hot dogs taste like resin. The smell of burning Pine isn’t always appealing to most people.
The old timers called some Pine trees ‘Lighter Pine’. This was due to the resin content. That resin is what helped to start fires more quickly.
Using Pine in a home fireplace can also cause creosote buildup in the chimney. This can quickly and easily cause a chimney fire. For this reason, it isn’t recommended to burn Pine in your indoor fireplace.
The Best way to Start a Fire
A successful fire needs air, fuel, and heat in order to burn. As for the ‘fuel’, this is primarily air. However, a match or starter such as Charcoal starter is also included in that definition.
In the afternoon before your planned campfire fun, take the time to prepare properly. First, choose where you will be building your fire.
When choosing a place for a backyard fire, find a place that is as open as possible. If you have trees, try to find a place that is away from low hanging limbs, and as far away from the base as possible.
Mow any surrounding grass. It may also help get your fire started more quickly if you dig the grass out from the area of your fire.
Next, choose how your fire will be contained. One way is by using a ring of bricks or stones around the area. Another way is to purchase a fire pit.
A ring of stones or bricks is an open arrangement and built on the ground. Although a perfectly acceptable way to have some campfire fun, they need to be built and handled carefully.
A firepit is usually a metal container that is elevated. It is a great way to enjoy a fire on a patio. These also come with wire lids to help keep the fire in place.
A fire pit comes in different sizes, from a tabletop model to 42” and possibly larger. Choose the size that works best for you. Keep in mind, the tabletop models use alcohol or other fuels to create the fire. They are not designed to burn wood.
Regardless of which method you use, never overload your fire with wood. Instead, add some gradually as the fire burns down. A fire that is too big can quickly get away from you!
There are a couple of ways to start your fire.
- Tightly wad up pieces of newspaper. Place a layer of dry branches on top of the paper. Arrange larger pieces of firewood on the branches. Light the newspaper with a match. (Note: Wadded up newspaper may burn and cause flying embers. If you use this method, watch carefully and closely to prevent fires you DON’T want from starting!)
- Stack dried branches in the center. Add your larger logs. Use a torch to light the smaller branches.
- If your fire is difficult to start, you can use an accelerant, such as Charcoal starter. However, I will say it again: NEVER use gasoline or diesel fuel to start your fire!
Cooking as Part of Your Campfire Fun
Cooking over a campfire is almost part and partial to even starting a fire. We love the flavor of roasted hot dogs, even if they are a little bit charred.
But there is more than just hot dogs you can cook over a campfire. You can also:
- Add a grill and cook burgers, steaks, ears of corn, and more
- Think Shish-Ka-Bob, and add meat, veggies, and vegetables!
- The Famous S’mores! (Graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows made into a sandwich)
Think Before you ‘Spit’
If you are planning on roasting hot dogs on a spit as part of your campfire fun, know this. Most of these are made from metal. Metal heats up quickly and retains heat, which can cause serious burns. Make sure your spit is long enough to keep you at least 2 to 3 feet away from the fire.
If you want to use hot dog spits, you really don’t want to use a wire coat hanger. First, they are flimsy, and you could lose your dinner in the flames.
Wire hangars are also too short. They won’t keep you at a safe distance from the fire. You also want to consider that wire coat hangers have a lacquer coating. By using this, the heat from the fire will soften or melt the coating, which in turn will release gases into your dog. These off gases are a carcinogenic, which can affect your health.
Using a stick may mean getting pieces of bark in your hot dog. It may also start to burn, which means you will have ashes on it as well. You also run the risk of the stick breaking and dropping your dinner into the fire.
If you still want to cook as part of your campfire fun, consider these handy spits you can use:
- Hot Dogs & Marshmallows
- S’More Basket (cook more than one without the risk of dropping them into the fire!)
Entertainment For your Campfire Fun
The entertainment portion of your campfire fun is almost endless. From spooky stories to singing, most entertainment will include everyone there.
Here are some of the ways you can create your own campfire fun:
- Challenge each person to tell a scary, funny, or a ‘Truth or Fiction’ story
- Sing campfire songs. Some of the most famous are:
- 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall
- Row, Row, Row, Your Boat (Done in Rounds)
- Get Our Your Musical Instruments and Have a Jam Session
- Play ‘Telephone’
- Play ‘Start a Story’ – one person starts a story with a sentence or two, then it passes on to the next person in the circle. They have to add more to the story. Continue until the story either finishes or makes however many rounds you choose
- ‘Back in the Old Days’ – share memories of your own growing up years, or stories handed down from generation to generation
Have Some Campfire Fun and Enjoy!
It doesn’t matter if you sing, make music or play games. The most important part of campfire fun is just enjoying each other!
Living a Simple Life is finding ways to just relax and enjoy your family, your friends, and your lifestyle. It is searching for ways to spend more time having fun. It makes it even better if these are low cost, at home, and a way to celebrate the people you love.
Here’s a tip: Having a bit of campfire fun doesn’t mean you have invite a large group. It’s also a perfect time for just you and a spouse, friend, child, or family member to have quality time together!
Are you ready to have some campfire fun? Then it’s time to head outside and start gathering up some sticks, branches and firewood. And be sure to invite a few friends. It may just be one of the best times you have had in a long time.