There is nothing on this planet that brings us as far back to our primal roots as a bonfire. Our ancestors used fires as tools to communicate, as a heat source for warmth, preparing meals, and as a way to help keep wild animals from attacking them. Native American nations and tribes held bonfires to settle disputes, hold wedding ceremonies, declare war on neighboring tribes, and many other ceremonial things. The bonfire has been the center of life for many civilizations since the beginning of time.
To make any fire, whether it be for cooking hot dogs on a stick with the kids, drying clothes when you fall in the creek while fishing for trout, or celebrating the weekend with friends, you will need the proper materials for starting and maintaining it, and keeping everyone safe.
First, you will need to have three kinds of material to burn, with tinder being the first. Tinder is the small stuff to get the fire lit. Tinder can be pine needles, dried leaves, small, dry sticks from the ground, birch bark, frayed rope, lint from the dryer, paper, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, etc. There are also many, many fire starters that can be made at home. Plans and instructions for more complex fire starters can be found on the Internet, at the library, or in many publications such as the Boy Scout Handbook.
The next thing you will need is kindling. Kindling is small wood and sticks used to grow the fire. Once your fire has started you will immediately need to add kindling to build it up and get it ready for the larger wood. Remember, you want the driest wood available. Green wood pulled from trees and bushes will make it harder to get a fire going. Not mention, it will be very smoky. There is also no need to harm living trees and foliage when there is plenty of material right there on the ground.
Once your small fire has been established, and you have a good flame with small embers glowing from the bottom, you will ad fuel wood. Fuel wood is the material used for the final stage of your fire. It consists of medium to large logs and branches. Never use fuel wood that is longer than your fire pit or ring. Your fire should always be contained in a specific area for safety.
When camping or spending time in the woods, you should keep a few buckets of water at the fire, for dowsing it when you are done. If you are having a bon fire in the back yard, keep the garden hose a few feet from the celebration. One should always think of safety first, especially with fire. Never, ever leave a fire unattended. An adult should be at the fire at all times, and small children should NEVER be allowed to work the fire!
Another important rule of safety is to never have a bonfire when authorities have declared a drought or fire warning.
If you are telling stories, or singing and playing music, save the quiet songs and tales for the end. This will help define the mood and atmosphere of the evening. A good bonfire celebration should start low, slowly building to a peak over time, then gradually fading back to calm, giving all involved a chance to reflect on the camaraderie. This will also give the younger ones a chance to settle, and realize the evening is coming to a close.
Now, everyone knows that a good bonfire should always include snacks and goodies. You can keep it simple and easy, providing popcorn and soda or juice. Or, you can have a traditional bonfire with roasted marshmallows. Marshmallows are stuck to the tip of a stick, held over the fire until brown, or placed right in the flame until you have a charred treat. Another popular treat at a bonfires are smores. These tasty snacks are easily made. Start by roasting a marshmallow. Then, put that marshmallow on a graham cracker. Add a piece of chocolate bar and cover it with another gram cracker. These are yummy to eat, and fun to make.
If you are an experienced bonfire host, you should try the treat of all treats for sitting around the fire…. a Banana Boat. Start by splitting a banana down the middle. Add a few marshmallows in the middle, along with some chocolate chips. Roll the desert in aluminum foil and add to the hot coals for a few moments. You will be considered by all attending to be the bonfire guru of all time!
There is a proper way to extinguish a fire when the party is over. First, let the fire die down as the evening progresses, as mentioned above. One should never just pour water on a fire and walk away. A fire should be “cold out.” Start by adding plenty of water to the fire at the base. Then, using a good sized stick, or small camp shovel, stir the embers and left over coals, leaving them scattered. Then repeat by adding more water. Continue this process until there is no flame, the embers are out and you can put your hand close to the pit and not feel any heat.
Bonfires are a great, inexpensive way to entertain family and friends. Singing songs, playing word games like “telephone” and telling ghost stories are all wonderful, wholesome ways to enjoy fellowship with family and friends and to bond with your kids. If you think safety, and prepare ahead of time, you will be the talk of your social circuit for months to come.