animals camping leisure the sky snow water wheels road trips cali maps

Activities | Camp


How is it that one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Most people view the local news reports about forest fires with a sense of detachment. Unfamiliar regions & distant lands. As an outdoor enthusiast, my heart sinks & my eyes tear up when I hear the reports.
beginners tips

Camp Fires

Dome Land Fire - Sequoia National Forest 2001

Think before you burn!

A forest fire raging outta control means I am loosing a friend. A place I know. A place I love.

A forested area that will never be the same - not in my lifetime. Fantastic tree filled views can disappear in a day with wild winds and flames. RED FLAG warnings and one spark. Poof! Gone for 20 years or more.

Dirt I have camped on, shady trees I have enjoyed, meadows I have picnicked in, scenery I value. I recall listening to the wind in the trees of a particular forest & the great times I shared with friends. Now it is all just a fond memory. Fire is becoming more and more destructive in California, so please be extremely careful with all flames, stoves, grills, fuels, welders, and smoking devices.


Living in California we all hear about these wild fires which rage out of control for days. We all want to enjoy nature as much as possible. And as long as possible! Follow some simple steps & common sense to make yourself aware of how & when to build a safe camp fire. We are all depending on you to keep it under control.

The western U.S. experiences wildfires every year and YOU do not want to be the cause of this years of catastrophe. Campfire permits are issued at no charge to ensure fire restrictions are followed correctly. Educate yourself on the proper way to tend to a back country fire; with a bit of reading below, you'll have the basics down. Some regions are very strict on their permits & primitive camping. The dry Southern California National Forests may not allow campfires outside of campgrounds at all. If you really wanna primitive camp in California, understand that you may need to drive further to reach the Sierra Nevada mountains or NorCal.

If you wanna camp outside of developed campgrounds in dispersed camping areas, contact rangers first & obtain with free annual fire permit. Check with a ranger on current fire restrictions

Obey the signs, check the winds, & by the way -- NO FIRES, means no fires!!

mapsNOTE: Fire restrictions apply in extreme fire seasons. Always call ahead if conditions are questionable - check local ranger office; USFS list of phone numbers

California Fires

Contained Campfires in California. Fire Restrictions.

CAMP FIRES are allowed in California. Depending on the season, official fire bans may be in effect. CalFire, National Forest, BLM offices will have the current fire conditions. Maybe the nightly news on TV, when and if the red flag wind events are predicted.

When the Golden State is experiencing drought, triple digit heat and hasn't had rain for months, expect the fire rules to be strict. Know the 'fire conditions' on each place you plan to visit.

RED FLAG WARNINGS happen in the most critically dry conditions, low moisture, single digit RH (relative humidity), high fuel loads. Camp fires can even be banned inside developed campgrounds, if dry conditions call for extreme measures.

CAMP FIRES are allowed:

developed campgrounds

(NO PERMIT required)
County Park Campgrounds, National Forest Campgrounds, National Monuments, National Parks, National Recreation Areas, Private Campground, Most RV Parks, State Park Campgrounds, SRA Campgrounds, SVRA Camps, on BLM land. Rivers, Reservoir and Camping Lakes.

dispersed camps

Boondocking Back Roads, Dry Camping, Free Camps, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Lands, Remote Hot Springs, National Forests, National Recreation Areas, Open Deserts, OHV Areas, PCT, State Parks, State Recreation Areas, some Wildlife Areas

wilderness camps

(with PERMITS)
Trail Camps, Pacific Crest Trail, BLM Lands, Wilderness Areas, National Forests, National Parks, Reserves, State Parks, Preserves
Camp Fires
California Forest Fires

Camp fire permits are valid for camp stoves, fuel lanterns or campfires. It may be used in any National Forests in Northern California or in the Sierra Nevada. Southern California National Forests usually does not allow campfires on the back roads, but may in the wilderness backcountry. The use of campfires and portable stoves is restricted during periods of high fire danger. Contact the regional Forest Service (USFS rangers office) for updated information, before you depart.

Always have on hand:

# 1. shovel

# 2. water

# 3. bucket

# 4. fire permit

Campfire Safety in California

Basics on Campfires inside California

  • Use only dead and down wood. Break dead branches from standing trees to reduce fuel load and limb up the trees.
  • Check above fire pit for overhanging branches. Remove any dead branches with rope, a rock and a hard pull or two. Wear a helmet if need be.
  • Always have decent, medium to large shovel at your campsite. A potty trowel is not big enough. Not adequate tool to fight a fire. Which you may have to do, of any fire escapes your personal fire ring.
  • Be physically fit enough to gather wood, build a campfire, tend your fire and contain your fire, at all cost. Be able drown and stop your fire at a moments notice. If this sounds like too much real work, please stick to the developed campgrounds.

  • Bring a bucket for water and quick extinguishing. You must have a water source close by. Creek, river, lake or piped water. Fill buckets ahead of time and leave next to the firewood pile.
  • Keep the fire small & manageable, so it does not get out of control. Winds can cause a fire to spread rapidly.
  • Remember to fold up camp chairs & lay them down. Winds can blow them into the fire & they will ignite.
  • Before turning in for bed, make sure there are no flames. If wind is expected, dose the fire with water - 100% dead out.
  • Extinguish old coals & fire pit any time you leave camp, even for a short hike.

See what wildfire did to the Roads End Resort on the Kern River

Flickr Search

making a fire ring

Always use an established fire ring if available!

If you must build a new fire ring, select a level spot away from over hanging trees, bushes, or dry grass. Avoid the base of steep hills, as fire travels uphill quickly. Clear a circle 12 feet across, down to bare dirt. Hollow out a fire hole, about two feet across, and six inches deep. Pile the soil around the edge of the fire hole. Place larger rocks around dirt ring. The more rocks, the better.


tending to a camp fire

Pay attention to dry brush near camp, wind conditions, branches over head & embers that pop out of the fire pit. Do not dispose of glass, metal, plastic or aluminum foil into the fire, this just leaves a mess for future campers to find.

Make sure there are no flames when it's bedtime; if so drown the fire. The wind could always pick up when you are asleep. Lay all camp chairs down well away from the fire pit.


put fire dead out

Even if you had a fire the night before & the fire seems out, the hot coals are still cooking way underneath. Pour water on it & hear the sizzling. Keep pouring. Put your fire dead out at least half hour before you start to break camp. Let the coals die down, then pour water over the ashes. Mix muddy water and ashes until all embers are completely out. Kneel down and feel (with the palm of your hand) for any warmth over the fire pit before you vacate camp. If you feel any, pour even more water.

An old washing machine tub works for keeping a fire contained & doesn't scar the earth. Place large rocks underneath to elevate it, so the radiant heat can be evenly distributed around the camp fire.

firewood find firewood dealers

Fire Pits, Camp Fire Hearth

The Do Not List:

  • do not build your fire on a upward slope. Fire travels up hill fast; plus the winds push it that direction.
  • do not build a fire on top of pine needles, cedar duff, or fluffy soil. Dig down to the bare earth, the real soil. Clear fire radius at least 12 feet around pit. Sparks can fly out and ignite dry grass, wood piles, clothing, tents and camping gear.
  • do not start you fire with charcoal lighter fluid, nor gasoline. There are plenty of products on the market such as fire starter sticks to help with such a task. Learn to build without and hone those survival skills.
  • do not throw plastics, glass or aluminum into the campfire. It is very difficult to clean up. Yes, you need to pack the trash out.
  • do not build a camp fire (or any fire) in windy conditions.
  • do not build a fire anywhere without a free fire permits issued by a legit agency (BLM, USFS, or CalFire).

    NOTE: Additional restrictions apply in RED FLAG (extreme) fire conditions.

to build a campfire

  • Use existing fire ring when available. This advice helps along with minimum impact camping technics. Don't build a fire against a boulder.
  • Situate your fire at least 10 feet away from tents, trees, roots and flammable items.
  • When using a campfire ring: clear leaves, pines needles & all ground cover a minimum 10 feet diameter.
  • Gather firewood and kindling using only fallen branches or down wood. Check to make sure the wood is dry & seasoned (not green & freshly cut)
  • Read all signs. Many parks and forest even forbid gathering fallen branches. It plays an important role in the ecosystem of the wilderness.

  • Build a pile of kindling, including paper scraps, dry plant matter and other small, flammable items. On rainy conditions or existing damp wood you may want to try the convenient 'fire starter sticks'. FatWood is by far, the best choice for fire starting ease. A long lighter also is nice to have.
  • Create a pyramid of dry twigs and small sticks around the kindling pile. Add paper or tinder, deep inside the pile. Add a few small size branches on top of the exiting pyramid. Light the kindling with a match. Add medium size wood (over 1" dia) after the flames are feet high.
  • Add increasingly larger sticks and then logs as the fire grows.
  • Do not create bon fires (taller than 5 feet) in the wilderness or build camp fires under extreme windy conditions.
  • Always leaving enough space between wooden branches for the fire to breathe. You may need to be fan the fire in order to keep the air circulating at first. Paper plates, cardboard, plastic box lid - all works well for this.
  • Before you turn in for bedtime, make sure the fire has no flames - embers only & windy conditions are non-existent.
  • When breaking camp or leaving camp for more than a few minutes make sure to drown your fire completely out. Poor water all over it, until no sizzling sound can be heard. The old left over water at the bottom of the ice chest works great for this.
Wet or green (fresh) wood will take forever to light. So gather lots of small stuff. Grey wood, branches, all sizes; big bark chips, pine needles, pine cones.

Do not create a back yard campfire unless you know the weather forecast, and have an abundant water source. Make sure permitted to do have a fire. Many towns and cities do not allow backyard campfires or even dooryard burning, referred to as BURN PILES.

Prescribed fires or 'controlled burns' by National Forest & Park Services help keep the underlying brush fuel down to a minimum; which helps the forest with carbon in the soil and for decreasing future wild fires.

Learn all you need to know about fire wood.

finding firewood & firewood dealers

Don't forget our Camp Help section to get prepared.
Or, if you really have no idea where to begin, start off with Camp Clueless.

Camp Fires Correctly

Public Lands in California

Campfires in California

California Forest Fires Rangers

Total Escape California Camping


California Weekends

Total Escape has been an AmazonAssociate for 20 years!
Earnings from purchases keeps this site alive.

Copyright © 1996-2024 Total Escape, / All Rights Reserved.

classic | lodge | recreation | destinations | journey | ads | sitemap | outside | maps | gear | mobile