How to build a campfire

Tips, styles, and simple precautions

Making kindling

"Logs split into thin, flammable pieces make the best kindling," says Julie Sidel, interpretive specialist at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. To cut wood, use the contact method taught by the Boy Scouts: lay the edge of the hatchet or ax on the end of the wood, parallel to the grain, then strike them against your chopping block.

The tepee

"The tepee shape works great if you're using long sticks, but it's less stable," Sidel notes. Begin with crumpled newspaper (the whole sports section) or tinder, then lay on plenty of kindling. Start your tepee by forming a tripod with three stout sticks and then fill it in, leaving a gap to allow wind to enter and circulate.

The log cabin

"It works best with logs or short pieces of wood," says Sidel, and it also creates a great bed of coals for toasting marshmallows. Start with a generous amount of crumpled newspaper and kindling, making sure it will burn the wood. Once the fire's established, add one or two of your largest chunks of wood.

Things to remember

• Don't collect downed wood in parks. Don't leave a campfire unattended.

• Do douse fires with a bucket of water. Do rake out coals to make sure they're dead.