Q&A: How to be fire smart for the Fourth

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By Chris Heck

The cooler is full and all the luggage is tied down. It’s Fourth of July weekend! And millions of Americans will be hitting the road out of town to spend the long weekend among our nation’s natural resources.

Fourth of July weekend is traditionally filled with grilling, campfires, and, of course, fireworks. With 29 active large fires across the United States and more than 8,400 firefighters and support personnel working to contain the fires, NACD is here to answer some common holiday weekend-related fire questions, to make sure that your trip is fun, memorable, and most importantly, safe.

Have a safe and pleasant Fourth of July!

Q: Are fireworks allowed on federally-owned public lands?

A: No. It is important to remember that regardless of weather conditions, fireworks are prohibited on all federal lands year-round. Many states have similar policies on their public lands.

Q: I’m going camping, can I have a campfire?

A: Maybe. It is important to always check the weather conditions to see if any fire restrictions have been put in place due to fire risk. Because tribal, federal, state, and local mandates differ, they may publicize restriction notices differently.

Q: There are no fire restrictions, can I build a campfire anywhere?

A: No. Campfires should only be built in safe locations. If available, use designated and/or existing fire rings provided at your campsite. Your campfire should be at least 15 feet away from your tent and other flammable materials, including your gear and existing vegetation. Before you start your campfire, you should examine the area and clear out any flammable debris present in a 10-foot-wide diameter around your fire pit.

Additionally, if there are low-hanging limbs or branches above the fire pit, a fire should not be started. Always have a water bucket or fire extinguisher on hand to put out the campfire or catch any sparks that pop out of the fire ring. To reduce the spread of pests and harmful invasive species among our forests, all firewood should be bought on site or at a nearby store. Do not bring firewood from your home.

Q: It’s time to go to sleep or go back home. How do I know if my fire is extinguished?

A. Prior to leaving, keep the following in mind:

  • Never leave the campfire unattended.
  • Use smart timing. If you know you are going to be leaving soon, don’t add a new log to the fire.
  • If possible, have the campfire burn down to the ashes.
  • Pour water on the fire and wet ALL THE EMBERS (not just the ones that look red) and use a shovel to stir everything around. Test with the back of your hand, and if warm, repeat the process.

Q: How else can I reduce my fire risks?

A. Parking:  You should try to avoid parking in areas with tall grasses, because the bottom of your vehicle can be warm after a drive and ignite dry materials underneath.

Cooking: You should ensure that all flammable materials are away from your cooking station and your flame is under control.

Trash: Prior to leaving, you should pick up all the trash around your campsite. Not only will this reduce the amount of flammable materials in the area, it will help keep the area clean for future visitors.

Smoking: DO NOT FLICK YOUR CIGARETTE BUTTS – Many fires are started because of improperly extinguished cigarettes. Whether camping or driving, it is important to collect your butts and not flick them onto the ground or out the window.

Chris Heck, NACD government affairs associate, can be reached by email at

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Tags: camping, fire, fire safety, fourth of july

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