Steven C. Karoly is a retired Seabee Cook who blogs at Round the Chuckbox. I eagerly followed a series of eight of Steve’s recent posts on the ‘Code of the Campfire’. They are a combination of practical advice and old fashioned good manners. One look at the idyllic campfire seen pictured above speaks volumes to Steve’s skill and experience as a camp cook. Here’s a quick overview of the code- you can read them all here. I need to go get a small bamboo rake.
1. The code of the campfire says wait until the neighbor party pulls out of the camp to snag firewood remnants. Pace about or talk about your next campfire dinner, but don’t enter the camp until their trailer clears the driveway… Part two of the code says don’t be greedy. Share your wood with a party that that needs wood. It’s a blessing to help other campers.
2. Never wash the coffee pot. Dump the grounds into the fire and rinse it with fresh water. You never know when boiling a pot of water in the caffeine crusted pot will be enough to ward off a caffeine withdrawal headache… Always be ready to share mug of fresh coffee with your neighbor.
3. Put fire to work in camp. Fire has been used through the ages to warm the body, give comfort through long nights and cook flavorful meals. Meat and potatoes are king on the grill. Add cast iron Dutch oven or skillet and you have the fixin’s for a great outdoor meal… Be ready to share vittles with campers who inadvertently wander into your camp.
4. Have a good source of firewood… Only pick up “down and dead” fuel for the campfire, per the U.S. Forest Service. Cutting standing trees, living or dead, is forbidden. Check local regulations before cutting or gathering wood. Help the novice camper light a campfire and share firewood with a late arriving party.
5. Always keep a pot of hot water on the fire. Hot water stands ready to wash dishes, bathe your body or tend bumps and bruises. In the Seabees, the cooks dedicated one 15-gallon stockpot to hot water in the field. The water was used for sanitation, cooking and coffee. (Seabees can get a hot cup of coffee from the field galley.)
The second part of the code says share a cup of tea, coffee or chocolate with camp neighbors before retiring for the night.
6. Have the right tools. The U.S. Forest Service campfire permit says that you “must have a shovel available at the campfire site for preparing and extinguishing campfires.” In addition to a shovel, I find that a grill or campfire grate, 18-inch utility tongs and small leaf rake (see code 7 below) all contribute to successful campfire.
7. Clear all debris on the forest floor away from the campfire. The U.S. Forest Service says the camper should rake a “minimum of five feet in all directions” from the fire. Like a fire break, the clearing creates a buffer zone between the fire and surrounding forest. The break will give the cook the chance to extinguish hot embers should any escape.
I rake all leaves, needles and kindling away from the campfire ring with a small bamboo rake. It’s small size conveniently fits inside the storage compartment of the tent trailer. The rake is a key component in my collection of campfire tools.
8. Obey all laws. This is especially critical when forestry officials restrict or prohibit campfires when conditions warrant. These conditions often occur in late summer and early fall. Secure an annual campfire permit where required by law. Please pay attention to instructions from the issuing official. And make sure you know current fire restrictions before lighting a campfire.
9. Don’t wander from camp while the campfire is hot. A momentary wind gust could carry embers far from the campfire. Be ready to extinguish any that escape. The responsible camper always considers the ramifications of a misstep or two. As I said earlier this week, you could be held legally and financially responsible should embers from your campfire spark a wildland fire. The second part of the code points back to a prior code — tool up. Should campfire embers escape, stomp it out with your shovel (or boot if that’s quicker!). Once the flame is dead, extinguish the ember with water.
10. The code of the campfire says put the fire dead out when you break camp. The U.S. Forest Service campfire permit requires that you use the “drown, stir and feel” technique to extinguish the campfire. Any method that leaves burning embers — even those buried under a layer of dirt — can spark a wildland fire.
To drown the campfire, pour several pails of water over the campfire. I find that it takes five or more gallons of water to drown the fire. With a shovel, thoroughly mix the ash and water until it resembles a soupy mess. Feel the ashes to make sure the fire is dead out. Walk the ground within a fifty-foot radius to make sure no embers have escaped.
The second part of the code says consider your neighbor. Watch the prevailing wind as you pour water onto the hot fire. This way you’ll avoid showering your neighbor (or wife for that matter!) with an ash cloud.