There are many things to keep in mind when having a bonfire to keep everyone safe and happy, especially when it comes to kids.
As the sister to smokey the bear himself (my brother was a park ranger for 15 years), I know first hand how dangerous bonfires can be, and how quickly they can get out of control. Below you will find several tips to have a safe and fun bonfire with kids.
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How to Have a Safe Bonfire with Kids
10 Tips for a Safe Bonfire with Kids
1. Teach Children how to be Fire Safe
- Assume it’s hot – teach your children to assume anything and everything around a fire is hot. Even the metal on the chairs we sit on can become hot enough to cause a first-degree burn.
- Keep a safe distance – teach your children to always keep a safe distance from the fire, unless they are roasting marshmallows under the direct supervision of an adult.
- No horsing around near the fire – Accidents are more likely to happen when horsing around is involved. Keep it away from the fire.
- Don’t poke at or throw anything into the fire – Do not allow your children to poke anything into the fire or throw anything into the fire or someone is likely to get hurt.
- Teach them what to do if they ever catch on fire–stop, drop and roll.
2. Supervise Children (and Pets) at all Times
Never leave children (or pets) unattended near fires.
3. Pick a Safe Spot to Have a Bonfire
- Check with local authorities about when and where bonfires are allowed in your area. You may need a permit. Some counties only allow bonfires in designated areas at certain times of the year.
- Dig a shallow pit surrounded by bricks or stones or use a designated fire pit. (This will keep the fire from spreading.)
- Never have a bonfire close to trees, shrubs, tents, homes or other structures.
- Make sure the fire is not under tree branches.
- Have a bonfire in a spot with no dry brush around. Clear it at least 10 feet away from your fire pit.
4. Use Hardwood
Soft wood such as pine is more likely to throw off sparks that can easily burn someone or start a fire. Use hardwoods such as oak that has been dried or cured to avoid this danger.
Never cut live trees or branches from trees. Green uncured wood produces more smoke, smaller flames, and less heat.
5. Know How to Build and Start a Bonfire
- Make a tipi with a few pieces of dry hardwood.
- Place dry tinder (newspaper, twigs, leaves, bark, pine needles, etc.) and kindling inside and around the hardwood tipi.
- Light the tinder on fire.
- Do not use fire accelerants.
- Add wood slowly once the fire is well established.
6. Keep Bonfire Contained
Choose a responsible adult not consuming alcoholic beverages to keep the fire safely contained at all times.
- Never leave a bonfire unattended.
- Pay attention to the wind direction and strength.
- Keep it safe, small, and manageable.
- Add pieces of wood to keep it burning steadily, as opposed to making the fire bigger.
7. Keep a Hose or Buckets of Water Nearby
It’s always best to be prepared in case of emergency.
8. Know Basic First Aid for Burns
Even when we are following all safety protocols accidents happen. Knowing basic burn first aid can help.
- Run cool (not cold) water over on a minor first-degree burn for 10-15 minutes. You can also use a wet towel or item of clothing. Once burned the skin will continue to burn until it is cooled. Cool water will help stop the skin from continuing to burn.
- Don’t break any small blisters.
- In the event of a more serious burn. Cover the wound with a cool moist sterile bandage (or a clean cloth) and call 911 or transport immediately to the nearest hospital.
9. Properly Extinguish the Fire
- Allow wood to burn completely to ash if possible.
- Pour lots of water on the fire to drown all embers.
- Pour until the hissing sound stops.
- Stir with a shovel until everything is wet and cool to the touch.
- Alternatively, you can use dirt but don’t bury the fire. A buried fire can continue to smolder until it reaches roots that will eventually cause a wildfire. Stir the dirt just as you would water. Dirt will take a lot longer to cool.
- Remember, as smokey the bear says, “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”
10. Enjoy Bonfire with Friends and Family
There is nothing better than sitting around a bonfire with friends and family enjoying stories, jokes, songs, good food, and good times. Make sure you have food on hand to enjoy and don’t forget the marshmallows and marshmallow skewers.
Keep in mind it is best to cook over hot coals than a fire. Use cookware safe for fires and follow safety protocols to keep from getting burned. I know too many people that have burned themselves trying to pull food off a fire. Please be safe and enjoy yourself.
These are all things to keep in mind when having a bonfire with kids. Bonfires are always best when everyone goes home (or to bed) safe and happy. Following these simple tips makes that a lot more likely. Be fire safe!
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