We have all seen rocks and campfires whether we are at a campground where someone is toasting marshmallows or watching a show on TV where folks are gathered around the campfire cooking or getting warm. At the end of the day, is there more to adding a ring of rocks around the campfire other than to prevent fire from spreading? The answer is yes. So other than that, why are stones put around campfires?
Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires
Those famous words are synonymous with Smokey the Bear whose sage knowledge about preventing fires has been a symbol for promoting fire safety since 1944 when he first arrived on the scene.
Preventing the spread of fire, whether it is from hot burnt coals, ashes, embers, and cinders, and flames from kindling or firewood are the main reasons for adding a solid ring of stones. By encircling the burning materials, the stones help keep them contained and controlled. A campfire without stones that is left unattended is an open invitation for a fire to start in another location.
Preventing Hot Feet
If you are the person in charge of the campfire, and you are doing your part by keeping an eye on the fire, but you have either chosen not to put a stone barrier around the campfire for a variety of reasons, or you simply forgot, think about the other campers. They may be out for a walk in the evening and come into contact with the campfire area. They may assume there is a barrier, or they may not be paying attention and are unaware there is no stone barrier for protection in place. Either way, all too often, this can easily result in someone stepping on the hot material causing serious burn(s).
On the plus side, a stone barrier is a visual reminder to everyone that they should not cross the stone line. It lets anyone walking in and around the camp know there is an area to be avoided. Just like we know a stop sign and a red light means “come to a halt and don’t go forward,” a stone barrier encircling a burring campfire sends the same message. A stone barrier is a safety precaution you do not want to ignore.
You have the campfire lit, and it is burning nicely. Part of a fire’s natural process along with burning is creating smoke. Back in the day there was a song, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” that was popular. While the song was a hit, in reality, you do not want smoke to get in your eyes, ever. It is an uncomfortable situation that causes eye irritation involving burning, bleariness, and tearing.
When a barrier of stones surrounds a campfire, it can help direct the smoke upward instead of branching out in all directions impacting the eyes of anyone sitting or standing near the fire. With smoke being funnelled towards the sky with the aid of the barrier, everyone will be happy campers.
Lighting it Up and Taming the Beast
When watching some survival programs, the campfire makers make it look way too easy to get a fire ignited and keeping it burning. Getting it lit up is not always a piece of cake especially if you are in an area with windy conditions. Once again, a stone barrier can come to the rescue and aid in getting the fire going by blocking the wind. Those few moments when the wind is not pushing through gives you enough time to get, and keep, flames flamin’. It is also worth noting that wind can turn a calm fire into one that can easily get out of control and turn into a raging forest fire.
As we all know, fires burn hot and fast, and in very little time, can go from a small flame to a raging beast. This is especially true when the wind picks up and feeds the flame. When stones are placed around a campfire, it creates a solid barrier that helps contain the flames and tame the beast.
When setting up camp, if there is a more sheltered area less open to wind activity, consider placing your campfire at the spot as an extra layer of protection from potential fire hazards.
Dinner is Served
Cooking over an open flame while camping just makes things taste better. To get your cooking equipment organized and ready to sizzle requires a campfire setup that can support your pots, pans, griddle, rotisseries, etc. This is where a ring of stones can serve as the platform to place a grill securely over the flame. You can easily adjust the height and position of the stones to accommodate the right height for home cooking in the wilderness.
Once you have the campfire set up to your liking, including a stone barrier, the space can become the designated area for cooking for your group of campers. This means, they will be aware of burning goals and fanned flames and won’t inadvertently traipse over them and get burned.
After a day on the trail, it is always nice to sit back, put your feet up, and rest for a while. With a sturdy barrier in place, the stones make the perfect place to warm up cold toes. Carefully place your shoes close enough to the fire, so the heat can penetrate the shoes but far enough away to avoid burning or melting the shoe’s soles. Be sure you do not fall asleep while getting toasty.
The stones are a great way to warm up your clothes on a chilly morning, dry off your freshly washed ones, or to get your nightshirt warm before going to sleep. The stones can also work as a natural drying mechanism for wet clothes. Whether you rinsed out a shirt, got caught in the rain and your clothes are damp, or your clothes got splashed by a waterfall, simply place the item on the stones to dry but be sure, like your shoes, it isn’t too close to the flame. Do not leave the items unattended as a gust of wind may come along and your clothes may end up fried instead of dried.
Rock of Ages
You may think you can use any rocks available to create a stone barrier. This is not the case. The reason why is that rocks can explode. They also crack and crumble. The last thing you want went creating a safe and secure stone barrier is to use material that can be problematic.
There are two main reasons that rocks explode. The first is that as the stone is subjected to the heat of the fire, it may expand at an uneven rate. For stones that consist of multiple rock types (conglomerate rocks), when they become heated, the rock expands unevenly resulting in an explosion.
The other reason is water trapped inside the rock expands too fast. Rocks have cavities that hold water. The water held within the rocks can be from a long time ago when the rock was first formed. It can also be because the rocks have been in a river or stream for most of their existence. Rocks that are porous or permeable contain more water and are prone to exploding.
Porous versus Permeable
Porous rocks have empty space within their structure. When measured, rocks with a high porosity rate have more empty space. Within these spaces, the rocks may contain fluids.
Rocks that are considered to be permeable means the water held within the rock’s pores can move from pore to pore. A good example of permeable material is clay. While the material has many pores, it has a low permeability rate. For this reason, clay is considered to be impermeable and why it is the choice when making pottery because it can hold water, but it does not soak or leak.
In the rock world, there are three types: metamorphic, sedimentary, or igneous. Metamorphic rocks were, at one time, either sedimentary or igneous. Over time, metamorphic rock has been subjected to heat and then compressed resulting in a rock that is denser than its original version. Sedimentary rock is created from the layers of sediment resting on the ocean floor or lake bottom. Igneous rock is hot, molten lava that crystallizes and solidifies. Once it cools, it becomes solid hard rock.
There are hard rocks and soft rocks. As mentioned, slate, marble, and granite are considered common hard rocks.
Granite is igneous. While in the cooling stage, the rock did not have any exposure to water or air, which allowed the material to solidify into a dense form. Slate and marble are metamorphic rocks. These two are formed when shale and limestone compress over time.
The softer rock forms, which include pumice, sandstone, and limestone, do not have the density as that of marble or granite. Soft rocks have more space between its molecules resulting in lighter weight, softer material, and are permeable to water.
Limestone and sandstone are sedimentary rocks that formed without much compression involved resulting in higher levels of permeability.
Pumice is an igneous rock and is porous. The material is formed when water or cold air mix with volcanic lava, which form bubbles. The bubbles weaken the structure of the rock resulting in a very porous rock.
Safest Rocks for a Campfire
The potential for all rocks to contain some level of water is a fact, which means you will need to use caution when selecting rocks for your campfire barrier. Rocks that are considered to be very porous should not be used. These include river rocks, sandstone, shale, limestone, pumice, and natural rocks. Water inside these rocks that becomes heated from the fire can result in cracking or explosion of the rocks. If you are camping near a river that is dotted with rounded rocks, avoid using these because most likely they contain water within their pores and will explode when heated.
To ensure as much safety as possible when creating a stone barrier, it is best to use rocks that are non-porous, dense, dry, angular, heavy, have a non-smooth surface, and are made up of one single rock material.
Several of the safest rock types to use include marble, granite, quartzite, and slate. While these rocks are considered safe, there is still the possibility of cracking or exploding, so, use precaution whichever rocks you choose. One thing to remember is to never use rocks as the bed of the campfire. By doing so, they will receive extreme heat that can lead to crumbling, cracking, and explosions.
The possibility of injury to yourself or others from an exploding rock is real. Several things can happen when a rock explodes. The pieces may hit someone on any part of their body, bits of the rock may end up in someone’s eyes, a hot chip may land on someone’s clothing or sleeping bag and burn through the material.
Anytime you go camping, safety is at the top of the list of important things to have in place, and this includes providing a stone barrier around your campfire. If you aren’t sure about whether the type of rocks you need will be available at the camping site, consider purchasing a fire ring to take along on your camping trips. In this way, you will always have the right material handy to create a safe environment for your campfire.