Fire Safety and Starting Fires


Handbooks for each program—Cub Scouting, Scouts BSA, Venturing, and Sea Scouting—Fire Safety Merit Badge Book have useful tips for camp fires.

These include the following:

• NO FLAMES IN TENTS! Even if the tent has a vent for a wood-burning stove, don’t use it. Instead, set up a dining fly. Then, at least 3 feet away from the dining fly, set up a camp stove for your cooking area.

• The NO FLAMES rule also applies to candle lanterns, citronella coils, or anything else that is ignited by a flame.

• Infrared heaters—the type commonly used at worksites by construction crews—should also never be placed inside a tent.

• Matches, lighters, and items used as fire starters such as shredded paper or paraffin wax and sawdust should be stored outside of your tents in a secure box or bag. Items that are “smellables” and could attract wild animals like bears should be placed in a “bear bag” and hung in a tree away from the campsite.

• Camp stoves, which typically have two or more burners and use propane, butane, or white gas as fuel, should be set up properly, following the manufacturer’s instructions. A solution of soapy water should be used to test for gas leakage at all threaded connections.

• Also make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when igniting the burners on a camp stove

• Areas for campfires should be checked for burnable material within 5X the diameter of the fire ( Fire pit is 2 feet across, area should be cleared for 10 feet outside the pit).

• No branches or limbs for 20 feet above fire.

• Have water on hand for suppressing inadvertent fires or smoking items (coat tails).

• Build a campfire only in designated fire pit areas. (where previously used for campfires), fire grills or rings or create an off-the-ground fire.  




• Three things are needed to build a fire:



Remove one of these and there is no fire. This is often done unintentionally.


For example, oxygen is removed by placing fuel pieces too close together or on the ground and not allowing the air to be drawn into the fire at the bottom, heated by the fire and drawn up through and heating the rest of the fuel.  It is important that the flame created at the bottom will be directed to the larger fuel on top. This preheats the larger pieces preparing them to burn.


Another unintentional fire stopper is to remove heat. For wood to burn it needs to be raised to about 450 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. If you take a match burning at 600 Deg F and use that flame to light a piece of wood 1 inch in diameter that is smooth, the heat will probably be absorbed by the stick and will get to 300 to 400 Deg F on the surface and may not ignite. If a little of it does ignite it probably will not supply enough heat to bring the rest of the wood up to temperature. For fuel to burn and sustain its own fire the internal temperature of the fuel must be brought up to a high temperature. This takes time. The way to do that is to use smaller pieces of wood (having less mass to heat) and let their fire heat a larger piece. For this reason we break the size of the wood into three categories.

          Tinder – small – can be lit by a match and sustain itself
          Kindling – medium – can be lit by a lot of kindling- will produce enough heat to light more kindling and fuel on top. This takes time. Enough layers of kindling should be used to insure the fuel is heated and sustainable.

          Fuel – large – Fuel should be placed so that all the heat from the tinder and kindling is used to heat the fuel. In a log cabin fire this may mean much more kindling is needed to heat the fuel.


If a fire is being built to get warm the size and shape are very optional. If it is being built to cook the main requirement is to have a “controllable amount of heat”. This can be done two ways.


          When backpacking, you normally cook for one or two people. A small fire, controlled by adding kindling as needed, can be used.


          Another way is to build a good sized fire with 3” to 4” fuel pieces and let it burn long enough to heat them deeply and then spread them out so there is no big flame and they burn and smolder slowly. This process takes a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes. By changing their position near or over each other the flame size can be controlled. This is a good way to do it for a patrol meal.


          Cooking is not done in a flame. Its temperature is approximately 550 – 650 degrees. Cooking is done at 250 – 450 degrees. Elevating the pot or item to be cooked will decrease the ambient temperature. Finding the “sweet spot” for what you are cooking takes practice. Campfires are the most enjoyable part of camping. Enjoy them safely and often.