Campfire safety: If you love Ontario Parks, don’t burn them!

Today’s post comes from Marketing and Communications summer student Mitch Jackson. His campfire talents include cooking stuffed peppers, grilling barbecue chicken, and always managing to forget to pack a lighter. 

For many campers, a fire is a must. Gathering ’round the flames, sharing stories with friends and family, making s’mores, and burning marshmallows are all part of the quintessential camping experience.

While you may have the perfect campfire recipes, or the perfect campfire building technique, you should also be aware of how to keep your campfire perfectly safe.


During the camping season, Ontario experiences — on average — at least one wildfire every day caused by an unextinguished or unattended campfire. Recreational forest users – including campers – are responsible for 200 wildfires per year. The risk is there with every lit match and clicked lighter.

The risk is also higher in the summer because of dry weather. Check whether your park is under a fire ban here.

If your campfire starts a wildfire, you can be held responsible for suppression costs and/or damages.

So if you love Ontario – don’t burn it!

family group gathered around campfire toasting marshmallows. Owasco RV in background.photographer: Tomoki Onishi

I love campfires – how can I make sure that my campfire is safe?

It all starts with location. Luckily, most Ontario Parks campsites have designated fire pits that provide a safe location for you to have a fire on your site. You should clear a one metre space around this pit, and remove all pine needles, grasses, leaves and twigs.

What if I’m in the backcountry and there isn’t a pit?

Select a site that is sheltered from high winds and has easy access to water. Backcountry campers should always have an appropriate camp stove and fuel – it’s not just a considerate camping practice, but a safe one as well. If there’s a fire ban, the stove must be designed to use gas, propane or naphtha, and you must be able to extinguish the flame by a control valve or by closing the stove.

photographer: Tomoki Onishi

How big can my fire be?

By law, your fire cannot be more than one metre in height and one metre in diameter. Small fires are safer, easier to control, and easier to put out.

But I need a big fire to be able to cook!2016 purchase from photographer Oleksandra Budna

Not true. A small fire will let you get close enough to cook and will also keep cooking tools from blackening. Remember that the heat you want for cooking comes from the coals of the fire.

And of course, the money you save on firewood can go towards more marshmallows!


Now that I have my fire going, what do I do?

Remember to always have someone watching the fire. Never leave your campfire unattended. If you start a campfire, you are responsible for tending it and ensuring it is kept under control. It’s kind of like your child.

Also, ensure you have a pail of water and a shovel to control the fire.

Okay, what about my ACTUAL kids?

photographer: Tomoki Onishi

While your kids are busy somehow getting marshmallow goop over every piece of camping equipment you own, make sure that they’re not playing with matches and lighters (or else Smokey Bear will no longer call them friends!).

Also, remind them not to fling or flail burning marshmallows. Blowing on them is a much better tactic.

It’s time for bed. I’m exhausted but this fire is still going

campfire being extinguished
Many of our northern parks like Killarney and French River offer collapsible fire buckets in their stores

Use the following steps to put your fire out:

  1. Pour lots of water on the campfire
  2. Stir the ashes with a stick
  3. Pour more water over top of it

Repeat these three steps until:

  • the ashes don’t hiss
  • everything looks wet
  • no more smoke comes from the ashes

Help protect our beautiful parks!