Trails for everyone, forever

Home Go Outside Trail Smarts How To Wildfire Season and Campfire Safety

Wildfire Season and Campfire Safety

Learn how to prevent wildfires, manage your campfire, and how to check the status on trails before you hike while fires are burning.

Learn how to prevent wildfires, manage your campfire, and how to check the status on trails before you hike while fires are burning.

Safe to hike? If you ever have a question about hiking in a region with an active wildfire, contact or visit a ranger station.

Burn Bans in Effect?

Before you head out camping or backpacking, check fire danger levels and make sure there are no burn bans in effect.

Fireworks banned on public lands

Let the night stars or wildflowers be your firework displays. It is illegal to set off fireworks on public lands, so when you hike or camp, leave the fireworks at home.

Fire prevention, a backcountry refresher

Cold Hands. Photo by Mike Warren.A stove is the way to go in the backcountry. Cold hands, warm stove, on a wet backpack in the Olympics by Mike Warren.

If you're in the backcountry, and especially during high-risk times, it's best to avoid having a campfire altogether. Oftentimes campfires are prohibited above a certain elevation or near certain bodies of water.

If you must have a backcountry fire, follow the Leave No Trace principles:

  • Make sure to check and follow all regulations. In some areas, regulations change depending on the season because of fire danger.
  • Use only established fire rings, keep your campfire small and never leave a fire unattended.
  • Use small pieces of wood gathered only from the ground and never break branches or cut down trees for a campfire.
  • Once a campfire is completely out, cool to touch, and all the wood turned to coal, then scatter the cool ashes.

For more info check out: Leave No Trace's Minimize Campfire Impacts.

Campfire safety: if it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave

campfire at Twanoh State Park by Irene Foo.jpg
A campfire in a designated ring at Twanoh State Park. Photo by Irene Foo.

If you are in an area without a burn ban, make sure your campfire is built and put out responsibly. (Adapted from guidelines from the Gifford Pinchot and Mount Hood National Forests fire staff):

1

Building a fire

  • Make sure a campfire is allowed. Check to see if there is a burn ban in your county.
  • Use existing fire-rings where it is safe to do so. Don’t build fire-rings in roads.
  • Make sure there are no overhanging tree branches near the fire.
  • If needed, scoop a small hole to mineral soil in the center of the pit. Set this material aside, and replace it in the ring when the fire is totally out before leaving the area.
  • Place rocks if available around pit. When finished, put rocks back where they were found.
  • Keep campfire rings small and use wood no bigger than the ring.
2

Enjoying a fire

  • Never leave a campfire unattended.
  • Keep tents and other burnable materials away from the fire.

3

Putting it out

  • Fires can often creep along the ground, slowly burning roots and dead leaves. Days later, the smoldering fire could break out into a real wildfire.
  • When leaving, make sure your fire is dead out. Very carefully feel all sticks and charred remains. Feel the coals and ashes. Make sure no roots are smoldering.
  • Drown the campfire with water and stir charred material.
  • If it's warm to touch, it's too hot to leave.

CONSIDER Air quality in PLANNING YOUR HIKE

While hikers need to understand the potential dangers of encountering a wildfire, smoke from wildfires can also pose a hazard. The state Department of Ecology issues daily updates on air quality using a scale ranging from good to hazardous, and they're worth checking if you're considering a hike anywhere near active wildfires. 

As wildfire season begins in earnest, it is a good idea check the air quality map before hiking or spending much time outside. This is especially true for people who could be especially sensitive to smoke: people with asthma, respiratory infection, diabetes, lung or heart disease, or have a had a stroke may begin to have breathing problems. Pregnant women, young children and older hikers may also be more impacted by poor air quality from wildfire smoke. 

More wildfire resources