5Ws+3H: What It's About: A little caution goes a long way when building campfires

When starting a fire this season, campers should use caution and always keep an extinguishing agent handy, such as a bucket of water or shovel to smother the fire with.

Although the warmer weather doesn’t necessarily require a fire for heating purposes, an old-fashioned campout just isn’t the same without one.

Tahlequah Fire Department Chief Casey Baker said grass fires created from campfires or bonfires usually happen more often in the winter and fall, or when there’s been a long dry spell over the summer.

“Right now, we’re not going to be running on many grass fires and we don’t usually have any issues in town. The foliage and the grass are greening up, so it’s harder to get something to burn,” he said. “Typically, the ones in town we do runs on that have caused grass fries are going to be from chimneys when people clean out their fireplaces and are dumping their ash or coals.”

With more people looking for outdoor activities, sitting around a fire has become more popular since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the TFD kept receiving calls for outdoor fires in area neighborhoods, so Baker and the fire marshal decided to ease restrictions to allow people to have small fires.

“It is OK to burn in a burn pit, as long as it’s at least 25 feet from a structure,” Baker said. “It’s OK to burn in a portable outdoor fire pit, as long as it’s 15 feet from a structure. Both must be constantly attended until the fire is extinguished.”

While it’s OK to have a small fire for roasting s’mores or cooking hot dogs, campers shouldn’t use an outdoor fire to discard their trash or burn brush. If they don’t have a portable, outdoor fire pit, Baker said, they should create a circle using rocks or bricks to start their fire in.

“If you’re going camping, you want to make sure you clear out all of the debris and make sure you get down to the dirt,” Baker said. “You want to remove everything that can catch on fire around where you’re going to be burning at least 5 to 10 feet away.”

When using a match to light a fire, the match should be thrown into the fire once it’s lit. Allowing wood to soak in lighter fluid is OK, but people should never using fuels such as gasoline to ignite their fire. Even outside of the city limits, campers should always keep a close eye on their fire.

“Never leave a campfire unattended,” he said. “You always want to keep a bucket of water or maybe a shovel around, so you can either smother the fire or put it out with water. Make sure it’s out whenever you go to bed.”

Campers should make sure no burn bans are in effect before starting a fire. Baker said they should not build fires when wind speeds hit 20 mph or so.

“The thing with fires is, if you’re just smart about it and use common sense, you won’t have any issues,” he said. “If you’re going to have a campfire, just be cautious about it. Make sure you have a fire pit and some kind of extinguishing agent, and you shouldn’t have any problems. When they have problems is when they leave it unattended or if they’re just careless in how they do it, like using chemicals, fuels and other stuff they shouldn’t be putting on there.”

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