Anyone who knows our family knows we are always outdoors. As soon as the snow melts, we’re lunching on the patio, playing in our backyard, or talking around our backyard fire pit. We include our kids in all of our outdoor activities, and that includes fire safety.
I’ve learned that after a few sentences of lecturing on environmental and human health, they stop listening. So I’ve made it interesting with four things that can make fire safety a fun part of anyone’s warm adventures this season. But first, a review of the fundamentals.
When setting a campfire, you are responsible for what happens. That means having a shovel and bucket of water on hand in case something goes amiss. If camping where water isn’t available from a spigot or creek nearby, be sure to bring it yourself. Most campsite fire rings are already set up for you, in a good location without overhanging branches and surrounded by several feet of dirt (not duff). Your backyard fire pit should be similarly arranged so that when the wind gusts and sparks fly, your home isn’t vulnerable to surprises. In addition, use pine needles and leaves instead of lighter fluid, drown fires before leaving, and make sure the leftover ashes are cool to the touch.
Campfires and backyard fire pits introduce more hazards than the typical dangers we learned from Smokey Bear. You can also be ingesting toxins that normal outdoor activities don’t give off. Here are four safety tips to minimize the obvious (and not so obvious) risks.
1. Include the Kids in Your Safety Preparations
Ask questions like, “Who knows why we keep tents and patio furniture at least four feet away from the fire?” Children love to have the right answer, and with respect to fire safety, there’s more than one. Want to include some trivia for the adults? Mention that nearly 90 percent of kids sustaining burns from campfires between 1997 and 2001 were under the age of 7.
2. Only Burn Local Wood
Keeping children away from the fire can help you do this. Not only will you be preventing an injury, but you’ll also be keeping the right kind of fuel in the fire. Kids often burn plastics, Styrofoam, colorful newspapers, and aluminum cans, but this is illegal and harmful to the ozone. Use the Environmental Protection Agency’s interactive tool to see when your state allows backyard burning this season, and what kind of materials you’re permitted to ignite.
3. Substitute Mischief with Heroism
It’s no fun when mom is constantly reminding everyone to stay back and keep trash out of the fire. To compensate for all the warnings, tell your kids about the critical missions our country’s firefighters run every year. Real jobs with superhero titles like “Hotshot,” “Helitack,” and “Smokejumper” are performed by genuine men and women each wildfire season. Get to know these roles, have kids choose one, and let them prepare accordingly for “anything to happen” while the family is camping.
By the time your outdoor activities are over, the kids will remember saving the day, not being nagged to keep out of trouble.
4. Trade the Mallows
The tradition of junk food and camping is as timeless as any. But as my family journeys toward a cleaner lifestyle, we’re trying to consume only foods with ingredients we can pronounce. That’s why we’ve swapped our marshmallow addiction for a treat that’s healthier. Next time you’re enjoying a campsite or backyard fire pit, be ready for your kids to ask for marshmallows, and have this quick recipe on hand:
- Fair-Trade chocolate chips
- Stainless steel grilling basket or cast-iron pan
- Split each banana partially open, but don’t remove the peels.
- Have kids stuff chocolate chips between the peels and the “meat” of their banana (pretend not to notice if a few chocolate chips disappear into their mouths).
- Replace peel loosely. An opening will still be visible.
- Lets kids place their bananas into cast-iron pan or grilling basket, and personally place the pan or basket into the coals of the fire, away from flames.
- In two minutes, use a fork to turn each banana over. Cook for two more minutes.
- Let cool for two minutes.
Peel and enjoy!
How about you? How do you keep your outdoor adventures safe without sacrificing the fun spirit of this season? Share in the comments below or join the conversation by tweeting @TomsofMaine, using hashtag #GoodMatters.
Image sources: Bethany Johnson
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.