Few things are as enjoyable on a fall night as a campfire, bonfire, or a fire on the beach. Just remember to be safe while having fun. It’s important to stay educated about bonfire safety and educate your children — young and old — about proper bonfire protocol and the do’s and don’ts when starting a fire or hanging out by one.

To practice bonfire safety when maintaining an open fire, locate it more than 50 feet from any structure. Fire size should be kept to a minimum so as not to create an excess amount of flying burning embers. Ideally, a fire pit with a 3-foot maximum size should be built on soil or sand and should be surrounded by more sand, rocks, bricks, or steel. A water source should be kept nearby to extinguish the fire when the event is complete (or in the case of an emergency).

Any fire larger than 3 feet wide is considered a ceremonial bonfire and may require a permit. Check with your local fire department before starting a fire of that size to see if a permit is needed.

Bonfire safety do’s

• Wet down any grass in the area surrounding the fire.

• Have a live hose or water supply nearby.

• Select a site away from trees, bushes and man-made structures.

• Be wary of nearby dead grass, dry leaves, branches and bark.

• Keep small children a reasonable distance from the fire.

• Supervise small children at all times (including your four-legged ones!).

• Use only dry, untreated wood to build your fire (free of paint, stains or other treatments).

• Have the appropriate tools to add or adjust logs.

• Start putting out your fire at least 20 minutes before you plan to leave the area.

Bonfire safety don’ts

• Never start a bonfire or stoke a bonfire with accelerants like lighter fluid, gasoline or kerosene.

• Never throw anything into a bonfire. Warn children that plastic bottles or juice boxes with wax surfaces are hazardous and should be thrown into the trash. Aluminum fumes are toxic, so keep foil and cans away from the fire. Tinder, kindling and wood should be the only materials in your fire and should be strategically placed.

• Moist wood like cedar and pine can create potentially dangerous sparks and should be avoided.

• If your wood bends and does not break, it is too wet to be burned and will cause a lot of irritating smoke that can hurt little ones’ eyes.

• Never leave the fire site unattended or walk away without ensuring the fire and embers are sufficiently extinguished. If you feel heat when your hand is a foot from the embers, it is still too hot to leave. Add more water or sand and stir with a stick.

• Do not mix bonfires and fireworks.

When roasting marshmallows or hot dogs at a bonfire: Make sure your stick is at least 3 feet long. Extendable, metal skewers are the safest but will be hot to touch. Take care when handling and extinguishing a flaming marshmallow.

When bonfire safety lessons aren’t enough:

Despite your best efforts, and even when people obey the rules, accidents happen. Teach your children to stop, drop, and roll. Have a burn kit on hand, just in case, and a phone to dial 911 if things go really bad.

Most importantly, have fun.

There is nothing better than the cozy warmth of a crackling fire surrounded by loved ones, friends or family. Practicing bonfire safety will ensure your time fireside will be even more pleasurable. Arming your children with bonfire safety rules will allow them to both enjoy and respect the power of a summer fire.

Elysia Rodgers is the agriculture and natural resources educator for Purdue Extension-DeKalb County.

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