10 fire safety tips that could save your life (or at least your eyebrows)

Only you — and your Scouts and Venturers — can prevent Scouting fires.

Follow the 10 tips to minimize fire risk and be prepared for that rare moment when a fire does break out on your Scouting adventures.

These and other fire-prevention ideas can be found on the 59-cent Unit Fireguard Plan Chart, available at ScoutStuff.org

1. Assign a fire warden and deputy

fire-wardenFor Cub Scout camps, these are adults.

For Boy Scout or Venturing camps, these should be youth leaders under adult supervision.

You could have the same fire warden and deputy throughout the weekend or week of camping, or this role could be alternated with others.

2. Give the fire warden and deputy their duties

fire-extinguisherThese jobs are more than cool titles. The fire warden and his/her deputy should:

  • Train all unit members in the fireguard plan
  • Know where all fire equipment is located
  • Complete the unit fireguard chart
  • Verify that all cooking, heating and campfires are completely out when not attended
  • Conduct a fire drill once a week at the direction of the camp fire warden
  • Report any fire hazards to the camp fire warden, immediately
  • Be ready to evacuate and account for everyone in the event of an emergency
  • Check fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors if the unit sleeps in cabins

3. Know what to do if a fire breaks out

sound-alarmCampers, adult or youth, should never be involved in firefighting.

But if you see a small fire, take immediate action. Time is of the essence. Here’s some examples of fire-control techniques:

  • Yell “Fire!” and notify an adult.
  • Send someone to seek assistance, send a runner for help, and/or dial the camp office or 911.
  • Douse fire with water or sand.
  • Smother fire with a lid.
  • In the event of a canvas tent fire, simply kick out the end tent poles if it can be done safely.

4. Keep flames out of tents

no-flames-in-tentsIt’s a no-brainer to camping veterans, but remember some of your Scouts may never have been camping before.

No tent material is fireproof, so enforce the no flames in tents rule at all times. Only allow battery-powered sources of light such as flashlights, headlamps and battery-powered lanterns inside tents.

5. Keep tents away from flames

tent-flamesJust like you shouldn’t bring flames to tents, you also should keep your tent away from flames.

That means being smart about where you set up your tents and keeping them away from cooking areas, fire rings and other areas where flames might appear.

6. Extinguish campfires properly

smokey-bearMake sure fires are cold out. That means you feel the fire area with your fingers.

If it’s still hot, the flames could reignite and cause a catastrophic fire.

Oh, and Smokey Bear thanks you in advance.

7. Keep flammable chemicals away from tents and flames

aerosolDon’t use flammable chemicals near tents or fires.

That includes hand sanitizer, bug repellent, spray cans of paint, aerosol deodorant, hair spray and more.

When in doubt, check the product’s packaging for a warning.

Store these items in a safe place, and make sure they’re returned there when no longer in use.

8. Know which chemical fuels are OK and which aren’t

coleman-stoveThere’s nothing better than cooking up dinner over an open campfire. But that’s not always possible on Scouting outings.

Enter the chemically fueled stoves, grills and burners.

Some, such as alcohol-burning “can” stoves, are so dangerous they’re prohibited in Scouting. Other fuels are safe but should be handled with care.

Be prepared for your next campout by reviewing the relevant section of the Guide to Safe Scouting.

9. Store, handle and use chemical fuels properly

camp-fuelAn adult knowledgeable about chemical fuels and equipment should always supervise youth involved in the storage, handling and use of chemical fuels and equipment.

Operate and maintain chemical-fueled equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions and in facilities or areas only where and when permitted.

Using liquid fuels for starting any type of fire — including lighting damp wood, charcoal and ceremonial campfires or displays — is prohibited.

During transport and storage, properly secure chemical fuel containers in an upright, vertical position.

10. Bring the Unit Fireguard Plan Chart on every campout

unit-fireguard-planThe Unit Fireguard Plan Chartavailable at ScoutStuff.org, contains everything listed above and more.

Make sure you bring one along on every trip, especially those involving campfires.


  1. As a leader of district cub scout camping events, I often get questions about those tent heaters that run off the green propane bottles. The companies that sell these products claim that they are safe to use in tents, but frankly they scare me due to a) heating some flammable thing inside the tent and b) oxygen consumption.

    What’s everyone’s thought on these?

    • I would leave the space heaters at home, as they fall under the “no flames in tents” category, and I believe are prohibited in the GTSS. If it’s going to be chilly, have families bring extra blankets instead. I usually bring at least one fleece blanket with me on all outings; they’re inexpensive and can be rolled into a tiny bundle that takes little space. If someone wants personal warmth, the little handwarmer packets are safe and can take the chill off.

    • I will admit I use one. It keeps us warm and blankets won’t keep the air warm for the Cpap that my husband needs to sleep well enough to function at camp.

  2. These are all excellent reminders. Basic fire safety should be a part of all firebuilding instruction, and shouldn’t wait for Firem’n Chit or merit badge instruction.

    In our troop, we have a posted list designating the fire warden for the day, along with a quick list of fire procedures. We keep a fire extinguisher right inside the side door of our trailer, and each tent has a water-filled ice cream bucket next to it (an old practice I didn’t see on the list above), and at least a 5-gallon bucket near the campfire. Our troop, district and council all ban any aerosols in camp. We are currently converting our old white gas lanterns to propane, which tends to be a lot safer; all Scouts receive instruction on making propane connections for stoves and lanterns, and fueling instructions for those devices which require liquid fuel.

  3. We don’t allow aerosols either, and that includes deodorant. I would caution everyone to make sure new leaders also go through a fire building class. We had a campout and of course, it rained. Some of the boys didn’t think a fire could be lit, so I showed them it could. This one adult told the boys to throw kerosene on it. Umm, NO! If it’s not in the handbook, don’t teach it. Tips and tricks are one thing, accelerants are unacceptable.

  4. In regards to alcohol fueled can stoves, only those handmade stoves, like the ones Cub Leaders use to make per the How-To Book, are banned. Commercially made stoves like Sterno are still allowed per G2SS.

    • Thank you for pointing this out, Nahila.

      Stoves like the classic Trangia spirit stove, the various Vargo alcohol stoves, and Trangia-like alcohol stoves made by Esbit or other companies are all acceptable according to the GTSS.

      Things get tricky when you move to “cottage manufacturers” such as minibull designs or others where the products may still be considered “handcrafted” (and thus prohibited). Many of the designs from those manufacturers use hydraulic presses and other equipment that could steer clear of that description, but it becomes a matter of interpretation.

      As for fuels, there used to be a prohibition on chemicals not labeled and sold as fuel. Some interpreted this to disallow alcohol stoves, but denatured alcohol is labeled as a stove fuel on almost any can you buy (many marine stoves are designed exclusively for denatured alcohol). Now alcohol is listed in the “not recommended” category, but is not prohibited. Sterno, as a gelled fuel, lands in the “recommended fuels” list.

  5. IOLS instruction: The FIVE things needed for a camp-type-fire:
    1) The means to extinguish it (before you even THINK of attempting to light one). : buckets of water, shovel, sand, etc. AND someone dedicated to WATCH it while it burns.
    2) A safe location: a)) Established fire pit/grate, clear to bare dirt for a radius of five feet all around, OR b)) a new area with equal preparation, provision to either keep it as a fire place, or the planned ability to replace the SMALL affected area. “Leave No Trace ” techniques taught, AND c)) permission of land owner/legal authority (?fire danger warning? drought conditions? ) AND d)) good sense: is it too dry for a fire? Do I really need one? Keep it small enough to cook on but big enough to dry my boots?
    3) A safe overhead : Is it too windy? Sparks can fly into the trees.
    4) Collect tinder, twigs, kindling , serious fuel BEFORE you start. Don’t want to interrupt cooking because I don’t have enough fuel.
    5) Means to ignite fire: Bird’s nest, matches, flint and steel, whatever. Practice in the back yard BEFORE you are 10 km up the AT in the rain.

    Never have to say “we thought it was out”. Touch the BACK OF YOUR HAND to the extinguished ashes and coals.

  6. Alcohol and alcohol stoves.

    The most noted dangers with alcohol stoves:

    1, Flames are not visible. Cannot see spreading flames if spill ignites. More likely to add fuel when still burning. NOTE: a pinch of table salt per 6 oz or so of alcohol totally eliminates these problems as the flames are bright orange. (Hey! National Supply could sell AlSafe fuel.)

    2. Stove cannot be turned off. Some non-pressurized stoves can be turned off. Others can be “turned off” by putting a pot over them.

    3. Stove may tip over if too large pot used. True of all stoves.

    4. Home-made stoves more likely to be defective (leak) than “manufactured” stoves. But I am having trouble finding data or even anecdotes to support or allow appraising of actual risk.

    5. People misuse them. And stoves in general.

    On the other paw:

    1. Alcohol is a renewable fuel.
    2. Alcohol stoves do not present a busting hazard. Not much data on other types bursting either.
    3. Because of the lower volitility, fuel “les dangerous” (whatever that means). Karosene also less volitile. Alcohol produces less energy for weight. C4 is very efficient.
    4. Kids can made a safe, functional alcohol stove or buy it for $10.00 delivered. Sticks burning in a can (Hobo stove) are even cheaper – if sootier. Then there are Buddy Burners (cardboard coiled in tuna can and soaked in paraffin).

    As I recall, this ban on home-made alcohol stoves (OK with karosene? Naptha? C4?) and discouragement of liquid alcohol as a fuel started when a Scout spilled alcohol in a car and somehow ignited it – a fact pattern seemingly unrelated to all “risks” noted for stoves – except any stove that uses any liquid fuel of any kind. Then there are the risks of disposal of “empty” gas cylinders. Without discipline and supervision, anything can go wrong.

  7. I have to question the wisdom of yelling “fire” before taking action if the fire is small enough to put out. Sending a runner to get help from an adult seems to be a better way.

    Yelling leads to panic

  8. Many national forests, national parks, state forests, national range lands, etc. do not allow liquid alcohol stoves or wood burning stoves, commercial or home made. Several major forest fires have been started (liquid alcohol) by them, including it is suspected, the 2013 Yosemite forest fire. Rather than check where they are allowed or not allowed, it is probably best to use an allowable stove. Our Venturing crew uses either canister stoves or white gas stoves.

    • Can you please provide a source for your information or provide specific forests, parks, or range lands where alcohol stoves are restricted? I haven’t been able to find restrictions of the kind you have suggested, but my searches and experience are mostly limited to the California Sierras.

      For example, I checked the Yosemite National Park website and the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park website, and even under stage 3/Extreme fire conditions, alcohol stoves are grouped with canister, white gas, and tablet/cube solid fuel stoves. They are allowed for backcountry use, designated camping sites, or designated picnic sites even in Stage 3 / Extreme fire conditions. Campfires, charcoal fires and wood burning stoves are prohibited in these conditions. My recollection from El Dorado national forest and Stanislaus national forest doesn’t include any special considerations for alcohol stoves, but I haven’t looked it up recently.

      The Rim Fire, which affected Yosemite and portions of the Stanislaus national forest in 2013 was started by a hunter burning a prohibited wood fire in extreme fire conditions. InciWeb lists it as under investigation, but according to news sources the suspected cause was announced 5 Sep 2013 by Forest Service Investigators. If you are referring to a different 2013 Yosemite fire, Forbidden and Rainbow were lightning caused or lightning suspected, and Carstens was an unattended campfire. I don’t know of any other 2013 fires in Yosemite (reference http://www.nps.gov/yose/blogs/fireinfo.htm)

      • OK, digging deeper there does start to be a distinction between stove types in high-risk fire conditions. A lot of the management agencies in drought-stricken California require the stove have an on/off valve and a pressurized fuel. (here’s a good jumping off point for reading: http://www.pcta.org/2014/2014-pct-fire-restrictions-california-16670/)

        This does not specifically prohibit alcohol stoves, but it does eliminate most styles of open-burner or side jet stoves like the Trangia. This would mean you need a pump-pressurized stove with a shutoff valve between the pressurized fuel and the burner. Attempting to justify the snuff-cap of the Trangia as an on-off valve and take it anyway seems like a good way to get a citation.

  9. LNT – Minimize Campfires. If a campfire isn’t needed, find alternative activities like star gazing, ghost story telling by glow sticks, etc. Or teach the scouts how to build a mound fire.

  10. A great “learning moment” I have utilized for working with Scouts (Boy Scouts) is the disciplinary action taken when they horse around a fire. I have a zero tolerance policy towards being unsafe around fires and I share this with all scouts that I share in the instruction of the Fire’min Chit to.

    All of my scouts know that if caught, they will have to release their cards and I will light one corner of it with a lighter (in a safe environment) and let the flame burn as much as it wants. This serves as a lesson to the scouts that fire can be unpredictable and dangerous.

    Also, as a sign that I respect the rules as much as they should, I also carry my old card to show that I believe in the safety and the fun elements of working with fires.

  11. #3—yeah, right. Let me know how that goes. Of the four camp fires I’ve been at in my long life of scouting succeeding in getting an adult to stop trying to put it out may as well put you on the track to sainthood. And usually in a very foolish way. One group formed a bucket line when there was a hose sitting next to the faucet they were filling buckets from.

  12. Great fire safety tips to know especially what should be the first thing to do when fire breaks out. It’s really important not to panic as it makes the situation complicated. Very informative post. Thanks for sharing these life saving tips!

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