Since campfires are an essential part of the family camping experience, campfire safety for kids is an integral part of any camp experience.
We’ve only been camping without a campfire once and it was an odd experience not being able to be roasting marshmallows every night.
As avid family campers, we’ve talked with our little guy about the dos and don’ts of fire safety many times. Here, we’ll go over some ways to instill these safety tips in your family camp experiences.
Go Over the Rules Every Time
How many times do you need to go over fire safety tips as a family? At least once more. Repetition is the best way to instill fire safety knowledge in young campers.
Kids need repetition to recall and react quickly, especially in dangerous or exciting situations.
Before every campout, talk about the campfire, and what is expected of every camper. Discuss things like cooking over the fire, putting the fire out before bed, walking and sitting near the fire pit, treatment of a minor burn, and what to do if a fire catches on someone or something.
Campfire Safety Tips for Kids
The first step to a safe family camping trip is going over the basic safety rules. There are some things children tend to do without thinking in the presence of fire. Tackle these topics early to keep them safe after you light the flames.
A Stick in the Fire Stays in the Fire
Sticks poked, tossed, or roasted over the fire have one thing in common: once in the fire, they stay in the fire (with the exception of marshmallow sticks, which an adult can help remove safely and reinsert as needed).
Sticks going in and out of an open flame have a higher probability of accidentally spreading a fire or causing a burn. Once a stick goes into the fire, it’s best to leave it there.
Don’t Walk Between the Chairs and the Fire
Getting around a campfire isn’t always straightforward for young campers. Set boundaries so children know to walk behind, not in front of, the chairs surrounding the fire.
It’s easier to fall into the fire from in front of the camp chairs. Similarly, walking too closely to the fire could cause your clothing to catch fire. It’s hard to get away from the campfire when there are chairs blocking the path. It’s a very serious safety risk, and one to discuss as a family.
No Running Near the Fire
This is an obvious one for adults, but not always so for littles. Kids love running around at campsites. Playing with siblings, chasing bugs, or simply frolicking for the joy of it. These are all fun ways to be active and enjoy nature, as long as they’re experienced away from the flame.
Much like a swimming pool deck, the fire is a walking-only zone. Explain to your children that if they need to move around the campfire, walking is the only option.
Building a Safe Campfire
Another way to support campfire safety for kids is to build a safe campfire. This includes the structure and design of the fire, as well as rules surrounding the fire area.
Here are a few things to consider as you set your safe campfire up. You can even write down your rules and bring them with you on a sign to keep near (but not too near) the fire area.
Adults or Older Kids Only
Younger children shouldn’t be in charge of lighting the campfire or chopping firewood. It’s one of many outdoor skills they can learn when they’re older, but young kids should leave the campfire building to the adults.
Use or Create a Designated Fire Ring
A fire ring surrounds the space you mean to make a campfire. It keeps the fire from spreading outwards toward grass, brush, tents, and people.
Fire rings can be made from rocks or gravel, but you can also use a pre-made firepit of metal to contain the fire.
Smaller is Better
Keep your fire small and stable. Big fires are exciting but can be dangerous.
Tall fires like log cabin style, made up of piled kindling and firewood have a greater risk of tipping over.
The bigger the fire, the hotter it burns and the more sparks it produces. Watch for overhanging branches above the firepit area.
Smaller fires are better for cooking because you can control the heat easier.
Don’t Use Lighter Fluid
Avoid adding fuel to your fire, such as lighter fluid or a chemical fire starter. When possible, stick to natural fire-starting methods such as paper, wood shavings, tinder (small sticks), kindling, and firewood.
Lighter fluid might give a fire a kick at the starting point but rarely adds to the longevity of the flames. We avoid having flammable liquids near the fire completely.
We use Black Beard Fire Starters or Bigfoot Bushcraft fire starters.
Tips to Keep Kids Safe Near a Campfire
Once the fire is made and the kids are beginning their campfire experience, how do you keep them safe? We have a few campfire safety tips we follow in our family to ensure everyone sitting near the flame.
Never Leave Them Unattended
The first rule is to never leave children near the campfire unattended. This rule applies to older children as well.
There’s no telling when a spark or flame bursts free and something catches that shouldn’t. If there’s no adult to react immediately and put out the flame, it could lead to a dangerous situation.
Use a Barrier or Fence
A barrier to keep your child at a distance from the flame is a great addition to a campsite. Think about the grates and gates used around wood stoves and fireplaces.
The key to setting up a safe barrier or fence is to make sure it is solid and secure. There’s no added safety measure in a barrier that might tip over into the fire.
If you don’t have a fence, you can draw a line in the sand or lay a rope on the ground as a visual reminder for your kids to not get too close to the fire pit.
Practice Stop, Drop, and Roll
Hopefully, you’ll never need to use stop, drop, and roll in a real emergency. It’s still useful to practice. In fact, we recommend practicing before every camping trip.
Most kids learn this in school, and it’s something you’re likely to go over in your home fire safety plan as well.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on the words and actions. Teach kids to perform the stop, drop, and roll as a family until everyone gets the hang of it.
Basic Fire Safety Rules
To keep the campfire safety momentum for kids going, be prepared with basic fire safety. Teach young campers about general fire safety, including how to put a fire out safely, and when it’s okay to have campfires.
Keep Sand or Water Handy
Once a fire gets out of hand, it’s tough to get back under control. Having every possible means of fire protection nearby is wise. We often travel with a small fire extinguisher for our camp kitchen area. You should also keep a bucket of water, or sand, nearby to douse the flame as needed.
Fire needs three things to ignite, fuel, heat and air. If you take one away, the fire goes out. It’s hard to take the fuel away once the fire has caught, but you can always control the oxygen level. Much like extinguishing a grease fire with baking soda, sand stops flame quickly by suffocating it.
Check Local Regulations
Not every night is a burning night. Depending on your location, and time of year, there could be a burn ban in your area. These bans are put in place to protect the local environment and your family.
Burn bans are usually in effect during high temperatures and draughts. If there hasn’t been rain in a while, chances are, you shouldn’t be burning.
Your campground may also have rules and restrictions for where and when fires can be lit. Read the fine print to ensure you’re setting up your fire in the appropriate area, and have permission to do so. Some bans include many different types of open flame, so be sure to know the rules.
Build a Fire Safely
Teaching your children how fire is made helps them understand the dangers involved. Show children how quickly a fire can catch, and how it’s controlled by fuel (wood) and oxygen. Use materials allowed by your campsite and safe for burning.
Some materials to avoid include:
- Treated wood
- Food wrappers
Use untreated wood with no chemical additives, and steer clear of fast-burning fuels for a safe fire-building experience. Show kiddos how to layer wood, and why it needs room to breathe.
Fully Extinguish the Fire When You’re Done
It’s awfully tempting to let embers smolder when you roast your last marshmallow and go to bed at night. Don’t. This is campfire 101, and I know it seems like overkill, but it’s important.
All it takes is a light breeze to reignite the flames or pick up embers from the fire and sprinkle it near your tent to start a wildfire.
Before bed (or if your entire crew plans to leave the campsite at any time) put out the fire by fully extinguishing it. Keep a bucket of water nearby to douse the last of the smolder and ensure there’s no risk of reigniting in the night.
Campfires are a large cause of wildfires or forest fires, especially on windy days.
We hope all of these tips on campfire safety for kids come in handy and add to the safety of your next family campout. As always, have fun out there. Roast a few marshmallows for us, just be sure to do so safely!
I’m Molly Foss, aka Momma Critter. I’ve been camping since I was 9 years old and I always wanted to be Robin Hood and live in the forest when I grew up. I’m excited to share my love of camping with my son as he grows up. My favorite thing to do while camping is roast marshmallows over the fire.