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This blog post is written by Olivia Reckley, a former camper, staff member and Out Trip Leader extraordinaire. She is studying anthropology at Wellesley College and is an outstanding soccer player on Wellesley’s team. As a camper for 8 years, two years on staff, and *cough cough hairflip* a Lumberjack Day champion, I feel like I can claim the title of a campfire expert. Although, I do have to credit my former counselors. Learning from the Camp Westminster legends Matt Clark and Chris Bridgwater (pictured below), I obtained very valuable information on the process of building a raging fire, and how to properly execute the Banana Song. Only 90s kids will remember these two icons and the excitement you get when you chant “Just one match!” over and over again, so I’ll let you in on the secrets (Shh! Don’t tell the Eastminster Pirates!). Here is my guide on how to have the perfect campfire at home and s’more.
Step 1: Pick a spot
This is one of the most important steps to the process. The location can deem your accessibility to the fire and your safety. The best place would be in an already established fire pit, but you can also create one. At my house, we use a metal fire pit that allows us to move the campfire around prior to building. If you’re opting for a campsite, many already have pits, so you would want to be sure to use these instead of creating a new site.However, if you are in an area where you have to build one yourself, here’s how you can do that safely. To start, build your fire at least 15 feet away from housing or flammable objects, and make sure it is an open space. Be sure to take into account the wind on the day you have your campfire, because it could blow flames and potentially become a dangerous situation. You will want to dig hole in the ground, about a foot deep, and surround it with rocks to keep the fire from spreading. As Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent wildfires,” so take the first step in this direction, and create a proper campfire site.
Step 2: Gather wood
Birch bark, birch bark, birch bark. Try saying that 5 times fast. If there’s anything that will get your fire started faster than you can say “buddy check” it is birch bark. BUT, if you don’t have any fallen birch trees nearby, have no fear, that is why I am here. The birch bark acts as a fire starter, called kindling, but other materials can be used as well. My favorite is dryer lint (yes, dryer lint), because it has a long burn time and it costs you nothing! Other options would be dry leaves, small sticks and twigs, dried and dead dune grass if you’re on or near a beach, or a store bought fire starting kit. The next step would be to find larger sticks, and then logs, called tinder. Now remember, throughout this entire process, if you are collecting from nature, it is important to only use materials that are found on the ground or already dead. My motto is “leave no trace,” which basically means make sure you leave your area the same way you found it.
Step 3: Construction
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To start, you should have a large bucket of water handy for emergencies; you can never be too careful when dealing with fire. There are multiple methods to building a campfire. However, the two ways I learned, and that have proved the best for me in my many years of camping, are the Teepee and the Log Cabin. For the Teepee, you will eventually want the sticks and logs to lean against each other to resemble a tent. Start with the kindling and progressively add the tinder as the fire catches and grows. I’ve used the Teepee method for roasting marshmallows and Lumberjack Day, as it allows for more access to the flame.The Log Cabin is the best for cooking in my opinion. To build it, construct it exactly how you would Lincoln Logs. Start with kindling in the middle, and surround the pile with tinder, adding larger and larger sticks as the fire grows. If you’d want to cook something on top of the fire (great for some sunrise oatmeal), simply create a grill with tinder across the top of the cabin. Your goal is to start the fire with JUST ONE MATCH!, so the construction is key to making this happen. You’d want to light the kindling, as that will ignite the rest of the wood. As with Christmas decorations, less is more, so don’t smother the fire right away with a lot of wood. Let the small stuff catch before you go big.
Step 4a: S’more of what?
Now that you have your fire started, you’re probably getting hungry. But what to eat? S’more food? Probably yes. S’more broccoli? Probably no. S’more bacon? Definite yes. But s’more S’MORES??? OHH! Yes, this is what you want with your campfire. S’mores are a Camp Westminster favorite, and one of my top three desserts. A s’more is a marshmallow sandwiched between chocolate and two halves of graham crackers. The marshmallow can be toasted to a perfect golden brown, or you can do what I do and completely char the marshmallow for a creamy inside. You can also spice up your s’more and use different kinds of chocolates. My personal favorite is Dairy Milk, imported from the UK by our international staff, but I wouldn’t say no to a Kit-Kat or York Peppermint Pattie. Another favorite campfire desert of mine is a banana boat. To create this delicious creation, you would get a banana, carefully cut it straight down, starting from the stem, and stuff it with marshmallows and chocolate. Then, wrap it with tinfoil and carefully put it in the fire. Let it cook for about 3-5 minutes, then take it out, and enjoy the chocolatey goodness. If it’s not melted to your liking, you can always put it back into the fire for more roasting time!
Step 4b: Entertainment
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With every campfire, there needs to be some entertainment. Have a guitar handy? Great! Start strumming those strings to any tune you want and let the crowd go wild. Don’t? That is perfectly OK too! Some of the best campfire songs are sung without a guitar, simply an excited leader and a loud, loud crowd. My all-time favorite campfire song to sing and perform is the Banana Song. A close second would be the Pizza Man, performed wonderfully by THE Amelia Dahmer. You can find these songs, and more, in the Song Book available at the Camp Store!
Step 5: Proper Deconstruction
When it comes time to end your campfire, you’re going to want to be careful extinguishing your fire. Once you’ve eaten enough s’mores and sung enough songs, you’re going to want to pour water over the fire. Make sure to cover all of the embers and hot tinder. If you don’t have enough water, you can cover the fire with sand or dirt, but be sure to mark your location so no one will step on the hot area. And as always, leave no trace. Be sure to clean up any trash or things you may have left behind so it looks just the same as you found it.
If you’re having a campfire, why stop there? Have a full-on camping excursion, but at home! Pitch a tent in the backyard, cook your breakfast at sunrise, sleep in a hammock, the possibilities are endless! There’s nothing better than spending time in the great outdoors “free from strife of city life,” so get out there, build your campfire, and enjoy a night under the stars!