How to Properly Extinguish Campfires

Before you set off into the woods, make sure you know how to properly and safety extinguish your campfire.

| March 2018

  • You should not burn your trash when leaving a campsite.
    Photo by Pixabay/StockSnap
  • “The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids” by Helen Olsson teaches parents how to keep their kids safe and happy on any family camping adventure.
    Photo courtesy of Roost Books

The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids (Roost Books, 2012) by Helen Olsson offers a fully rounded and comprehensive guide to having a fun and safe family vacation in the woods. Olsson offers families tips, checklists, recipes, and more to make any trip into the wild a success. In the following excerpt, she gives her expert advice on extinguishing campfires.

Never Burn Trash: Pack It Out

Burning wood alone sends particulate matter skyward. Add cans, plastic bags or bottles, Styrofoam, or foil, and the fire will release toxic fumes containing carcinogens like dioxins, benzene, styrene, furan, lead, and mercury. Even chip bags, candy wrappers, and coated cardboard can release harmful chemicals when burned. This is bad. Newspaper and uncoated cardboard are okay to burn, but your best bet is to stick with wood and pack out your trash.

Campfire Checklist

• Homemade or store-bought fire-starting tinder
• Tinder collected at the campsite
• Kindling
• Larger sticks
• Bundle of firewood
• Matches, lighter, or fire starter
• Paper or plastic plate

Extinguishing a Campfire

When you’ve finished enjoying your campfire—before you turn in for the night, before leaving the campsite in the morning, and before you pack up and head home—it’s critical that you put out the fire properly.

First, let the wood burn down to ash. At this point, it may look like the fire is out, but hot embers lurking in the ash pile are enough to ignite a forest fire, given the right gust. Pour water on the remains of the fire and keep the water coming until you no longer hear hissing noises. Stir the wetash mixture with a stick. Add more water. You’re good to go when the ash mixture is cold to the touch. Water is preferable to dirt for extinguishing a fire, but if you don’t have water, dirt is the next best thing.



If you’re at a campground, the camp hosts will likely clean out the ash for incoming campers. But if you’re in the backcountry, you should either bury your ashes or scatter them over a large area. On some rivers, you may be required to pack out ashes.

Smart Tip: Collect dryer lint to use as tinder. It’s essentially made up of tiny bits of cotton, and as such, it’s highly flammable.



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