Anyone who’s sat around a campfire as twilight turns to night knows how easy it is to lose one’s thoughts in a flicker of flame. After all, there’s something about a blazing fire that takes us away from the world and its worries, to a place in our minds that’s primeval and mysterious. Perhaps fire fascinates us because it’s a study in opposites—one moment, it’s dangerous and the next moment, it’s a source of comfort. Whatever it is, those flames have been casting their spell for a very long time.
Philosophical musings aside, most can agree that few things set the mood for an evening of relaxing companionship like a hearty fire. Whether you’re at a campground, cabin, or just chilling around your backyard fire pit, a crackling fire is a perfect way to wind down your summer days. It all starts with some firewood and a sturdy axe. Make sure you leave a few thick, slow-burning logs to toss on as the fire starts to dim. Just don’t forget the marshmallows, once you’ve got a decent fire happening.
Building a Campfire 101
The ingredients of a campfire are simple: heat, oxygen, and fuel. The heat is easily supplied with a lighter or matches, and the oxygen is all around you, so that leaves the fuel.
You’ll need three types: tinder, kindling, and chopped firewood. The tinder should be easy to ignite—paper, leaves, even lint will do. Make a loose pile that can breathe easily, then build your kindling around it. Kindling consists of smaller pieces of wood like sticks, branches, or wood chips. These will catch fire easily, but burn longer than tinder.
Next, light the tinder in several places, and fan or blow on it to supply more oxygen. As the flames grow and the kindling catches, start feeding it with firewood—carefully, and with smaller pieces first, until the fire’s well on its way. Kick back and enjoy your night by firelight.
Where to Get Firewood
For the occasional fire builder, it’s easy to buy firewood in the Edmonton area, where many stores, supermarkets, and service stations sell it in bags and boxes. A bundle of wood is typically 0.75 cubic feet, roughly containing up to nine pieces and selling for less than $10. Depending on how big or how long-burning you want your fire to be, five to ten bundles should do for an evening’s fire. Like most things, buying in greater quantities is more economical, and if you’re planning on a lot of fires this summer, bigger might be better.
Also available at many stores are composite logs. Made from sawdust and wood waste cut into log shapes, these products are arguably a greener alternative, as they burn longer and more efficiently than firewood, and give off less carbon monoxide. A six-pack of three-hour logs typically costs between $15 and $25.
Upscale Your S’mores
When the fire’s good and roaring, the natural inclination is to bring out the smokies, the traditional main course of many fireside feasts. And you can’t forget a kiddie favorite like the s’more, consisting of two graham crackers, one golden oozing marshmallow and one chunk of chocolate. But adults might want to tinker with the s’mores formula to suit more mature tastes. So it doesn’t hurt to experiment with dark or flavoured chocolate, substitute oatcakes or cookies for the graham crackers, or dunk your creation in a salted-caramel sauce. You’re only limited by the number of marshmallows left in the bag. Here’s a recipe to get you started.
“Gourmet” Cherry Chocolate S’mores
- 1 artisanal marshmallow (because we’re being fancy here)
- 2 butter cookies (but not shortbread, which will crumble)
- 1 square cherry-flavoured chocolate (the really expensive kind)
- 1 tbsp cherry preserves (that’s jam)
Toast marshmallow over an open flame. Top one cookie with chocolate, artisanal toasted marshmallow, cherry preserves, and the remaining reserved cookie. Eat.
Firepit Rules and Regs
In Edmonton, the Community Standards Bylaw regulates fire pit usage. According to this bylaw, fire pits must be installed a minimum of three metres from buildings, property lines, and anything that can burn. They should be less than 0.6 metres high and a metre wide, and they should have enclosed sides and a mesh screen with openings no larger than 1.25 cm. Care should be taken to minimize the amount of smoke a fire creates, and, as elsewhere, fire bans must be respected. For fuel, only use charcoal or clean, dry wood (in other words, no pallet fires in your backyards please). For more info, check the City of Edmonton website or one that’s pertinent to your municipality or county.
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