Whether you’re camping overnight, hiking in chilly weather, or enjoying a bonfire in your backyard, knowing how to put out a campfire properly is an absolute must. This knowledge and a task well done can help prevent fires from growing and raging out of control–especially when camping in fire-prone places.
Read on to learn step by step how to put out a campfire the right way based on your camping conditions, location, and more.
How to Put Out A Campfire with Water
Step 1: Douse the Campfire in Water
The best way to put out a campfire is from ashes, so you will want to start by dousing it with water. Do this while standing uphill or upwind of the fire and slightly back from it. This positioning will help prevent you from being burned by the torrent of steam or inhaling airborne smoke particulates.
Water can be poured from a bucket, water bottle, canteen, or whatever container you have on hand. The best practice is to douse the fire with water until you no longer hear any hissing from the embers; this will indicate it has cooled significantly.
If you have a limited amount of water to spare for dousing your campfire, consider letting it burn itself out almost completely (no flames, only embers) before you pour the water.
Step 2: Mix Up the Ashes and the Embers
Mixing the ashes and embers of the fire together is a crucial part of putting out a campfire for two reasons: it helps distribute the remnants of the campfire heat so no new flames flare up. Secondly, it will help expose any hot embers or even still smoldering wood that got missed while dousing.
This step can be done using a stick or a shovel to stir the ashes and embers together. If you uncover still flagrant pieces during the process, you will need to douse them again. So be sure you have enough water on hand to tackle these problem spots.
Step 3: Remove Burned Parts to Check for Any Embers That Are Still Glowing
Even after the first two steps to put out a campfire, some hot spots can lurk out of sight. The trick here is to find any simmering embers that are not fully extinguished. To check for these, you can use the same stick or shovel from stirring to now scrape at the burned part of any sticks or logs in your firepit.
This practice will sometimes uncover some hot embers still smoldering within the wood itself. These, too, must be put out.
Step 4: Douse the Campfire With More Water
Once you have finished stirring and scraping, it’s time to put out the campfire a second time! Douse all the embers with more water, once again listening for any hissing and watching for bright red, flagrant spots in the wood and ashes.
Step 5: Check for Any Warm Parts of the Campfire
Safety is key when putting out a campfire, so for this step, you want to start with your flat palms held over the firepit but not touching the coals. If you do not detect any heat just above the surface level, you can gently and carefully pat the coals, searching for any parts that are warm (even if you find a warm spot, none should be hot at this time).
Repeat Steps 4 and 5 As Needed
If you find any residual pockets of warmth in your campfire, you can repeat Steps 4 and 5. Douse those particular problem areas and give the firepit a stir, then test for warmth again. Once the entire fire bed and the rocks surrounding it are cool to the touch, you have successfully put out a campfire!
Before you break camp or go to bed for the night, be sure to do a thorough sweep of the area for any stray sparks or embers that might have floated from the fire. These can still kick off a new fire, so you will want to handle them swiftly and decisively if you spot any escapees.
How to Put Out A Campfire with Dirt (Or Sand)
Step 1: Wait for the Fire to Die Down
The trick for how to put out a campfire without water lies in using other elements to your advantage. However, this will be a longer, slower process, not ideal for rapidly extinguishing a fire.
So to begin with, you will want to have a plan in mind. Stop adding logs to your fire well in advance of when you plan to leave, as you will need to wait for the flames to burn themselves out before you can move on to Step 2.
Step 2: Mix Up the Ashes and Embers
Once the flames have subsided from your campfire, you can stir and mix the embers and ashes together using a stick or a shovel. In this step, to put out a campfire, the goal is to uncover any sticks or logs that have not burned and to reveal any embers that might be lurking within the ashes or beneath the intact wood.
Step 3: Mix Dirt or Sand With the Ashes and Embers
The next step to put out a campfire without water is to smother the embers with dirt or sand. This step can be tricky, as balance is key here. You want to use enough of the first or sand to suffocate the embers, which will fully extinguish the fire.
However, if you completely bury the fire under a mound of dirt or sand, this can actually have the opposite effect of putting out a campfire. It can create a fire that burns beneath the dirt, which can flare up later and make that patch of dirt or sand dangerously hot.
This would be a great hazard to anyone walking over or camping with that same firepit after you. Additionally, a buried but still hot fire can even catch roots alight underground, which could lead to the beginning of a wildfire.
To avoid all of these unwelcome outcomes, be sure to use a balanced amount of dirt or sand, adding small handfuls at a time and mixing regularly with the ashes and embers using your stick or shovel.
Step 4: Check for Any Warm Parts of the Campfire
Once no flagrant bits of the campfire are visible to the naked eye, you can test your campfire’s heat by holding your palms several inches away from the coals and testing for heat. If there is still detectable warmth, mix in more dirt or sand.
Repeat Steps 3 and 4 As Needed
Continue to mix in small amounts of dirt or sand and retest the heat of the cold from a few inches away until the firepit and surrounding rocks are cool. Once this is achieved, you have successfully put out a campfire without water!
Be sure to check for any escaped embers or sparks before moving on from your firepit, as these can potentially start a new fire under the right conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions About How to Put Out A Campfire
How much water will I need to douse my campfire?
The amount of water necessary to fully put out a campfire will vary depending on the size of the fire, both in strength and dimension. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to pitch camp near a water source so you have unlimited water at your disposal.
However, if this is not feasible, consider bringing along at least one or two-gallon water jugs dedicated specifically to dousing fire. You may not need all of it, but it’s wise to have enough on hand in the event it’s necessary.
Can I leave if my campfire is still a little warm?
There are certainly instances where a little residual warmth will not do any harm in a campfire, and it will fade away on its own in time. However, it is never, ever considered a wise choice to walk away from a warm campfire. There is just too much of a risk of things going wrong with an untended, still-warm fire pit.
If you are worried about not having enough time to thoroughly organize a campfire, the key is planning ahead. Begin the dousing process long before you are actually reading to leave to be sure you give yourself plenty of time to tend the dying fire.
It’s much better to call it quits on your fire earlier than you wanted than to have to make the choice to walk away from it…and risk starting a much larger fire that no one wants.
Wrapping Up Putting Out a Campfire
Feeling confident about how to put out a campfire safely–in the wilderness, at a campground, or in your own backyard?
Be sure to check out our Camping page for access to other how-to guides on our website to learn about all the ins and outs of camping skills–from starting your campfire, cooking on it, pitching camp…and so much more!
- About the Author
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Renee Dugan is a lifelong writer, professional editor, and lover of the great outdoors.
A Midwest girl born and raised, Renee has always enjoyed the deep, life-giving inspiration that connection with nature brings.
In addition to channeling the awe of outdoor life into her prolific novel-writing career, she currently enjoys sharing it with her son and spreading knowledge of safe, fun outdoor life with Beyond the Tent readers and anyone she can help face-to-face.
Renee can be reached at email@example.com