How to Put Out a Campfire Without Water: The 4 Most Effective Methods

Written by: Ash James

Knowing how to put out a campfire safely helps avoid undesirable events, and it is something every camper should know. If not extinguished properly, it can cause forest fires, harming other campers, the wildlife, and the ecosystem. 

When I was young, my dad loved to take us all camping, but always drilled into us the importance of putting fires out safely to avoid starting a forest fire.

Learn about the four ways to put out a campfire without water and follow our step-by-step guide to keep your campsite safe.

What You Will Need to Follow this Tutorial

Here are some of the basic materials you’ll need to follow this tutorial.

  • Dirt
  • Sand
  • Snuffer or any metal sheet
  • Rocks

Don’t worry because we’ll go through in detail below how to use these materials in putting out a campfire in case there’s no access to water. Remember, Smokey the Bear was right when he said only you can prevent forest fires!

What Is the Best Method to Safely Extinguish a Campfire?

Water is always a fantastic ally in dealing with fire (unless it’s a grease fire, but that’s another story entirely!). But the problem is that a supply of water isn’t always available. Fortunately, there are effective alternatives in such cases.

Since fire always requires oxygen to continue burning, the best way to put out a campfire is to cover it. Cover your campfire with dirt, sand, or even baking soda so the logs and embers are extinguished completely.

What I like to do is dig a small fire pit and then keep the sand and dirt that I’ve dug out near the fire, so it’s easy to just shuffle it onto the embers.

Using this method gives protection from the wind, stops the supply of oxygen, and lowers the temperature around the fire pit. These are great things when putting out fires! Read more to put out a campfire with these materials safely.

Step by Step Instructions: How Do You Properly Put Out a Campfire Without Water?

Now that you have the materials ready, let’s learn how to put out a campfire without water safely. Take a look at this video to understand the process.

Here are some of the ways we find the most efficient to put out campfires. These step-by-step guides help prepare you for any situation.

Method #1 – Using Dirt or Sand

This method is pretty straightforward – cover the flames with lots of dirt until they are completely put out. If you’re using sand, you might need a shovel and scoop it up to pour over the flames. Other alternatives to shovel are buckets and other metal objects, so you won’t get into any accidents when trying to put out the embers.

You can either do what I do and just make a small pile of dirt next to your fire pit, or you can bring a bucket, fill it up with dirt, and then simply pour that over the embers.

Step 1: Pour Dirt or Sand

Using any available scooping material, slowly pour the dirt or sand over the flames and create a dense covering on the burning coals. This helps stop the supply of oxygen, which is responsible for your fire burning long after you stop adding fuel.

Step 2: Ensure There’s No Combustible Material in the Dirt

If you’re using dirt to cover the flames, you might overlook it but ensure that there are no combustible materials, such as leaves and twigs. Adding them to the fire may cause it to burn again.

One easy way to prevent sticks from mixing with your dirt is to do the foot-sweep method. I just use my foot to literally sweep the top layer of dirt away from where I’m digging my fire pit, and the detritus goes with it!

Step 3: Use Dirt With High Moisture Content

Using moist dirt instead of dry is better to put out the fire faster. The added water in the dirt cools down the burning coal and extinguishes the remaining flames.

I keep a water bottle for just this purpose. Before I dump the dirt, I mix in some of the water.

Step 4: Check for Any Hot Spots

After covering all the burning coals with dirt or sand, ensure any hot embers won’t ignite again before leaving. Thus, use a large stick or a shovel to check any hot spots or embers.

Method #2 Stirring Coals and Dirt Inside the Pit

The next process of putting out a campfire without water is to stir coals and dirt inside the fire pit. 

Step 1: Burn Down the Wood

First, ensure to burn down all the wood in the fire pit. If you want to expedite the process, you can use a shovel or other tools to split or break up the wood while it is burning.

Just make sure you stand back as you do so. I once stood too close, while wearing flip flops, and some embers landed on my toes. I haven’t danced the same since.

Step 2: Throw Dirt or Sand on Burning Wood and Stir

The next step is to throw loose dirt or sand on the burning wood while stirring them together from time to time. Stirring helps prevent hot coals from getting the oxygen that fuels the fire. Continue adding dirt or sand and mixing all the elements until you have an even mixture. The more you add dirt or sand, the faster it is to extinguish the fire.

Just remember my toes: stand back and wear close-toed shoes.

Step 3: Ensure the Fire Is Completely Extinguished

Watch over the fire pit burning overnight while repeating the second step. You know it’s safe to leave the campfire once you can run your hands through it without the risk of burning yourself after the fire pit has cooled.

Method #3 Burying the Embers – Build the Fire in a Hole

If you want a faster way to extinguish the fire, digging a hole where you place the fire is the way to go. This method is all about campfire preparation. Typical pits usually build a fire on the surface. However, your goal is to place your fire below the ground so that it’s easier and quicker to bury the embers and ashes.

Step 1: Dig a Hole

Dig a wide and deep hole to fit the intended campfire. The ideal hole size is approximately a foot deep with a two-foot diameter. Ensure that the dirt you pull out from the hole is easily accessible when it’s time to extinguish the fire.

Step 2: Burn Down the Wood to Ashes

Similar to other methods, it’s vital to burn down the woods to ashes completely. Throwing some dirt or sand that you got from the hole can help, and stir them with the elements occasionally. After diluting the ashes with dirt or sand, let them sit for about an hour to cool down.

Don’t go to sleep before you do, or, if you’re like me, your pops will shake you awake and give you an hour-long lecture about the importance of fire safety when in nature. No one wants that in the middle of the night.

Step 3: Fill the Hole Completely

After cooling down the mixture, it’s time to fill the hole using the rest of the dirt pile. Don’t stir the mix because it just brings the possible remaining hot ashes back to the surface.

Step 4: Final Check

So, every method ends with a final check. Ensure that no heat escapes the layer and makes its way to the surface. Don’t leave the campfire unless everything has cooled down.

Method #4 – Using a Campfire Cover

Using a fire pit lid is a fast and safe way to put out a campfire. It’s a metal tool placed on the fire pit to prevent the air from supplying oxygen and fueling the flames. You can use this handy tool in extinguishing small to large campfires, making it the perfect companion when you go camping.

The drawback in using a campfire cover is you need to bring it with you, which is quite heavy because it’s made of metal. If you want your camping gear compact, using a campfire cover might not be the best method for you.

This is one reason why you should invite friends to come camping with you, especially if they’re burly. You can bring the snacks, and they can carry the supplies! Everyone wins.

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Step 1: Bring a Campfire Cover

Include a fire pit lid in your campfire essentials. If you don’t have it with you, you can use any large piece of metal sheet of good quality to cover and put out the fire.

Step 2: Place the Cover Over the Pit

When it’s time to extinguish the campfire, place the metal sheet over the pit. Let the cover sit for a few minutes. The lid’s weight will smother the flames slowly until they are completely put out. Remember not to touch the lid.

Step 3: Final Check

Leave plenty of time until the burning wood has completely cooled down. This process takes time, so you need to wait and ensure that you don’t disturb it until the next day.

Method #5 Spreading Out The Remaining Coals

Spreading out the remaining coals can help douse the fire completely. Follow these steps and do this method.

Step 1: Wait Until All Wood Burns Down

Allow some time to let the fire burn the last of the firewoods to coals and ashes. This is usually the optimal time to tell scary stories, as the light slowly dies, leaving nothing but the blackness of night and your imagination for company.

Step 2: Spread Out the Coals

Once you’ve recovered from whatever fright or laugh you’ve had, it’s time to spread the coals. Your next step is to spread out the coals around to help them cool quickly and remove any unburnt fuel which might ignite fire again.

Step 3: Extinguish

Don’t leave the site right after spreading out the coals. Ensure you cover them with dousing materials, such as dirt or sand. The volume of dousing materials depends on the size of the campfire. 

Step 4: Cool Down

Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the remaining embers are fully extinguished and the pit has cooled down. You may want to sing a little jingle as you do to chase away any lingering fear you might feel about Slenderman watching you in the dark.

Step 5: Check the Area

Practice safety before calling it a night. Ensure that the surrounding areas are free from risks of embers that can start spot fires.

What Should You Circle a Fire Pit With to Contain the Fire?

You can contain the fire by circling rocks and dirt around the fire pit to create an insulator. This works well because it helps to put out the fire combined with any aforementioned method. The only downside is it doesn’t work well if the area is windy. 

I always find that the pit method works best for windy weather, not only to prevent the trees around you from getting embers, but to protect your poor little toes.

RELATED: Best Propane Fire Pits for Camping

Dangers of Putting Out a Fire Without the Use of Water

There are different types of fire, and using water isn’t always the go-to solution when extinguishing it. However, it’s the fastest way to put out a campfire. Now, fastest isn’t always best. How else would you have the daylights scared out of you without having scary story time as the fire dwindles down to naught but embers?

Extinguishing a campfire without water is more time-consuming and challenging. However, it’s still possible with patience and perseverance. Follow the steps mentioned above to put out the flames and prevent any more fire from igniting.

How To Put out a Campfire – FAQs

How do you properly put out a campfire?

The proper way to extinguish a campfire is to let all the wood burn first until it turns into ash. You can use any of the above methods depending on what’s the most accessible tool for you.

Just ensure that when you add elements, such as dirt or sand, they don’t have combustible materials such as leaves and roots mixed in.

Whichever method is used, always make sure everything has cooled down before leaving the campsite.

Can you let a campfire burn out?

Letting the coals burn out is definitely the easiest option. However, it can be tricky because even a tiny ember can be the source of a forest fire, especially during hot and dry conditions.

It’s best to put out the fire long before you plan on leaving the site. Ensure to start the process as soon as you pack up or before you go to bed and wait for the ashes to cool down. 

How long does a fire take to burn out?

Several factors affect the time for the fire to burn out completely. To simplify things, for every inch of wood, the fire burns for approximately an hour. So, if you have a 5-inch log, expect it to burn for about five hours.

This rule is only an approximation since some types of wood burn longer or faster. Nevertheless, you can use this rule when estimating the burn hours of your campfire.

Final Thoughts – Always Practice Safety When Putting Out a Fire

One thing to keep in mind is to extinguish the campfire long before you’re ready to leave the site. Ensure to start the process of putting out the fire as soon as you pack up or before you go to bed because it takes a long time for the embers and ashes to cool down. 

Know how to keep yourself safe and the environment. If you enjoyed this tutorial and love camping, we would love to hear your thoughts about this article. Follow our page to learn about the best advice and techniques every camper should know to make the most of their time exploring nature.

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Ash James

Ash has always loved camping, fishing, and being outdoors. His idea of a perfect day is finding new trails to explore, driving to a remote location, and camping off the beach with Karyn and their two kids. He's pleased to share the knowledge and skills he's learned over the years. You can find out more about Ash here.

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