Parks and Rec

Campfire Safety Makes for Happy Campers at County Parks

As the weather warms up and summer approaches, San Diegans are packing up their tents and RVs and heading to a County Park to enjoy the great outdoors. But before you go unpacking the hot dogs and s’mores, there are a few things to consider with campfire safety.

Setting Up Camp

Nine County parks offer overnight camping, and all reservable campsites include a fire ring.

Sweetwater Regional Park Supervising Ranger Louis Chertkow said when a red flag warning is in effect, no fires can be made at the campsites.

“If climate is good, most of our parks are open for campfire,” Chertkow said. “Signage is posted to let campers know when no fires are allowed. We also don’t sell firewood during a red flag warning.”

Where to Get Wood

Visitors are discouraged from bringing in their own firewood to prevent the spread of tree-killing pests like the gold-spotted oak borer.  For added convenience, you can purchase firewood right at the campground.

“We don’t allow pallets or cutting off branches or vegetation in the park. Pallets can allow the fire to get too high and the nails left behind are difficult to clean up,” Chertkow said. “We require people to buy wood that’s properly bundled at the park or at a nearby store.”

Most parks have a bundle of firewood available for $5.

Lighting the Fire

Starting a fire at the campground can be done safely. There are just a few simple things to remember.

Chertkow suggests buying a starter log to ignite your campfire, the same kind you would get to use in your fireplace at home.

“Or you can use a little piece of paper rolled up on the wood and light that. Some people bring some small kindling like wood chips; that’s the safest way to start fire,” he said.

The park ranger warns to stay away from lighter fluid, which may help you start the fire more quickly, but it can also flare up and back at you just as quickly.

Stick matches will do the job to light the spark, Cherktow said, but leave the paper matches at home, as they can blow away or out when you throw them in the fire.

Extinguishing the Fire

Most people put out their campfires with shovels and dirt or a bucket of water. Park rangers go around and make a last check to see if there’s a fire that’s not completely out. Anything that’s still smoldering will get five gallons of water dumped on it.

“It’s probably the most important job we have,” Chertkow said of the double-checking.

Maintaining Safety

Most of the County parks work closely with the fire agencies in what Chertkow calls a “joint effort” to keep things safe during camping. Agua Caliente Regional Park and William Heise Park have monthly classes called Fired Up!, where local firefighters come to the campgrounds to teach visitors about fire safety.

“The firefighters really check on us from time to time and they really help with the fire programs at all of our parks,” Chertkow said. “It’s nice to be a part of a team. “

Other safety tips

  • Place chairs at least two-and-a-half feet away from the fire.
  • Have a 5-foot clearance from the fire for your tent.
  • Put your hand 3 feet above the fire to feel if it’s still hot. If you don’t feel warmth or embers, your fire is out. If you do, douse it with more water.
  • First-time camper? Don’t be shy! Ask any of the park rangers for safety and fire tips. They’re there to help!

Happy camping!