16/03/2013
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How to make a campfire

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Campfires virtually disappeared as an option for many years before emerging again recently as we sought out fun on sites other than the delights of clubhouses and bars. There's been a growing feeling that fires contribute to a more authentic camping experience but it's probably got more to do with childhood dreams and primitive impulses. There is something deeply satisfying about staring into flickering flames as night falls. The direct heat is only part of the warmth of feeling that envelops all those around the fringes of the fire.

Of course, horrific images of wildfires and the resulting long-term damage done to moor and mountain underline the need for responsibility and care. There is no justification for lighting fires in the countryside for fun and recreation; on site, they have to be enjoyed safely and with regard to others.
 
It's become much easier to find campsites these days that offer, even encourage, fires. By providing prepared areas to indulge our primitive urges, site owners also head off indiscriminate damage to their sites. With wood on sale, there is no need to be tempted into raiding woodland for fuel.

A useful accessory for campsite fires is a grill to enjoy barbecues on real fires (with a few charcoal briquettes for good measure); no need to hunt out anything special as an old oven shelf will do perfectly well. Definitely needed is a poker or long stout stick to manage the almost inevitable playing with fire that most of us enjoy.

As sticks and logs on site can be pricey, it might be better to bring sticks from home and buy a net of logs locally; garages and garden centres are likely prospects.

TOP TIPS
  • A steel car wheel resting on bricks on a paving slab contains the fire safely behind and means that fires leave no scorched earth. A bag of logs and sticks should be enough for a couple of evenings enjoying nightcaps by the fire. Spare a thought for neighbours and hold off from Ging Gang Goolie moments. Do have a word with children about fire safety.
  • Still on the Boy Scout theme, there's no need to rub a pair of sticks together to get the fire going Ray Mears style. Instead, break up a couple of firelighters and set them in the base; never use petrol or any other liquid accelerants to get the fire going. A little preparation and patience means there should be no need to risk fireballs, frights and burns.
  • A web of small dry sticks will benefit from the through draft; don't skimp but place enough to really get the fire started before adding logs. Using charcoal briquettes as well will extend the life of the fire and give a steady heat without dancing flames if you want to cook on the fire. Trial and error will soon have you on the right track.
  • Screwing up paper and pushing it down around the sticks will let you set light to the firelighters without scorching your fingers on flames licking upwards from a taper, match or lighter; there is no special layout or pattern needed. Of course, if you don't have firelighters then more paper, best twisted in spirals, will be needed and laid down before the sticks are added.
  • When the sticks are burning well, add a couple of logs. Leaving it too late will see the sticks burn out before the denser logs start to burn. The variety of wood types used plus how dry it is mean that you'll have to use your own judgment as to when and how much to add. Makes sense, though, to kick off with smaller ones.
  • With the fire underway, try to resist the temptation to keep adding bigger logs for a huge blaze. Bear in mind the alleged Native American saying: “White men build a big fire and sit far away; we make a small one and sit close.” It's cheaper as well and less likely to cause alarms and excursions if the wind picks up and fans the flames.
Read more top camping tips here.

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