How to Put Out a Campfire: Be a Responsible Camper

Updated Aug 15, 2023

To put out a campfire, let the fire burn down to ash, then spread the ashes out and slowly pour water over them, stirring and scraping to ensure all embers are soaked. Continue the process until the fire is completely extinguished and the ashes are cold to the touch. Continue reading below to learn more detailed steps, as well as how to build and maintain a safe campfire.

Putting out a campfire is an essential skill for anyone who enjoys camping, picnicking, or simply spending time outdoors. Not only is it important for preserving the beauty of our natural surroundings, but it’s also crucial for preventing wildfires.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore various methods for safely extinguishing a campfire, as well as some best practices to follow when building and maintaining your fire. By following these steps, you can ensure that your campfire is not only enjoyable but also safe and environmentally responsible.

Campfire Safety

Safety should always be a top priority. Escaped campfires are the second leading cause of forest fires and accidental fires in National Forests, making it crucial to know how to put out a campfire properly. Before building a campfire, always check for any campfire restrictions in the area, as rules and regulations can vary depending on the location and time of year.

Preparing Your Campfire Site

Before you even light your campfire, it’s important to prepare the site properly. This will not only make it easier to put out your campfire later but also help minimize the risk of the fire spreading.

Choose the Right Location

Select an open, level spot away from trees, logs, stumps, overhanging branches, dense dry grass, and forest litter. It’s also a good idea to check for any underground roots or peat that could catch fire. If possible, use an existing fire ring rather than creating a new one. In areas without designated campgrounds, you can build your fire within a ring of rocks, but it’s preferred that you use one that’s already been established.

Clearing the Area of Flammable Material

Before starting your campfire, clear all vegetation and flammable materials such as needles, leaves, sticks, and other debris away from the fire ring. This will help prevent the fire from accidentally spreading to the surrounding area. Most tents are made of flammable materials, so don’t set up your tent too close to the firepit.

Building and Maintaining a Safe Campfire

Once your site is prepared, it’s time to build and maintain your campfire safely.

Keep Your Campfire Small: A smaller campfire is not only easier to control but also easier to put out when it’s time to extinguish it. Stick to a manageable size for your fire and avoid using large logs or branches that could extend beyond the fire ring.

Monitor Your Fire at All Times: Never leave a campfire burning unattended, even for a short period. A small breeze could quickly cause the fire to spread, so make sure a responsible adult is always present to keep an eye on the fire.

Have Water Nearby: Keep plenty of water nearby so you can douse any stray hot embers or flames. When it’s time to put out a fire, you can then use that water to speed up the process.

Related Post: How to Build a Campfire

How to Use Water to Put out a Campfire

Water is a quick and effective way to put out a campfire, but it’s crucial to do so safely. Here are the steps for extinguishing a campfire with water:

  1. Let the Fire Burn Down to Ash: As your camping night draws to an end, stop adding wood to the fire and let it burn down to ash. While some people may think it’s okay to let a fire burn out naturally on its own, you should never do this. A fire should be completely out before you leave it unattended, although you can let it burn down naturally as you are finishing up so that it’s easier to put out at the end.
  2. Spread Out the Coals: Use a stick or shovel to spread the burning embers, hot coals, and ashes out in the fire pit to let them cool down.
  3. Slowly Pour Water Over the Ashes: Pour a generous amount of water onto the embers and ashes. This should create a hissing sound, which is the sound of the fire being extinguished.
  4. Stir and Scrape the Ashes: Stir the ashes and remaining embers with a stick or shovel while adding more water to ensure everything gets soaked. Scrap any burning pieces of wood or coals to make sure you fully extinguish any hidden embers.
  5. Check for Heat: Carefully place your hand above (not touching) the wet ashes to feel for any remaining heat. If it’s still warm, there could be live embers remaining. Add more water and stir again.
  6. Repeat Until Cold: Repeat pouring water and stirring until everything is cool to the touch.
  7. Double Check: Before leaving the site, check once more that it’s fully extinguished. The fire should be completely out and cold to the touch before you leave.

Using Sand or Dirt to Put Out a Campfire

While there are some people who recommend using sand or dirt to put out a fire, this is not the recommended method. You can use sand or dirt to help with water, but it shouldn’t be used as the sole method. Campfires burn ridiculously hot, and sand doesn’t quite do the job to get it cooled down.

A study reported that campfires “extinguished with sand” were still hot enough to cause full-thickness burns after eight hours, making them a safety hazard even a few hours later. If you do use dirt or sand to aid in putting out the fire, make sure it doesn’t have any combustible material in it like sticks and other organic matter.

Utilizing a Fire Pit Snuffer

A fire pit snuffer is a metal lid or cover designed to smother the flames by cutting off the flow of oxygen to the fire. Some fire pits come with a snuffer, but if you need to purchase one, make sure it’s the right size for your fire pit’s opening. A snuffer should fit snugly over the opening to effectively extinguish the flames. Once the flames burn down, place the snuffer over the fire pit and leave it in place until the fire is completely out and the embers have cooled.

Tips for Gas and Propane Fire Pits

Putting out a fire in a gas or propane fire pit is much simpler than with a wood-burning fire pit. Simply turn off the gas source to extinguish the flames. If your gas fire pit has decorative elements, such as lava rocks or fire glass, ensure that they are cool to the touch before covering your fire pit.

Leave No Trace

Always follow Leave No Trace principles when you’re camping or enjoying the outdoors. This means cleaning up after yourself and leaving the area as you found it, including dismantling any fire rings you built and scattering the rocks.

Campfire Safety Gear Recommendations

Having the right safety gear on hand when putting out your campfire can make the process much easier and safer.

  • Water Source: A bucket of water is essential for quickly extinguishing your campfire.
  • Shovel: A shovel is useful for stirring the contents of your campfire and adding sand or dirt to smother the flames.
  • Heat-Resistant Gloves: Heat-resistant gloves can protect your hands if you need to handle hot fire pit components or reposition your fire pit after it has been extinguished.
  • Fire Extinguisher: While not necessary for putting out a campfire, a fire extinguisher is a valuable safety tool to have on hand in case of an emergency.

Final Thoughts

By following these guidelines you can enjoy a safe and responsible outdoor experience while minimizing the risk of wildfires. Always remember that it’s better to be overly cautious when dealing with fire, as it only takes one ember to start a devastating blaze.

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About the Author

Hey there!

We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, climbing, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while.

Safe Travels,

Derek and Ashley


Know Nothing Nomads

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