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In What do you do if the fire does get "out of control"?, someone asked a legitimate question, and @berry120 wrote detailed response, and ended with a "tl;dr" saying, " but if the proper precautions are taken, you should very rarely or never need to resort to them. Prevention is 100x better than cure in this case."

I would think a comparison with defensive driving would suggest the right mindset for preventing out-of-control fires. Defensive driving does not assume that every other driver will follow the laws; it is meant to give you best chances when someone is driving like an idiot and deals you a card off the side of the deck. And my impression is that defensive driving is now expected.

In terms of defensive driving, I expect an attorney could say a lot about, for instance, "A missed turn is much less painful to recover from than an accident."

But I wanted to ask: What are the basic approaches, actions, and measures taken to see that what starts in the fire pit, stays in the fire pit?

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First, lets dispel a common myth: Rock fire rings do absolutely nothing to contain, corral, or control a fire.

That being said, a fire needs 3 things: air, fuel, and heat. An overabundance of one will create an uncontrollable fire. Thus, keep the following in mind:

  • Consult the local fire conditions. Public lands agencies will rate the fire conditions. Heed their warnings.
  • Don't build a fire in high winds. Sparks can be thrown hundreds of meters into dry tinder and start a fire
  • Be aware of fuel nearby - anything organic that touches or is near your fire can combust. Tall grasses, shrubs, even roots that cross from your fire to a fuel source can create issues. Look for overhanging branches above your fire.
  • Keep your fire small. There is no need for 10foot flames. Smaller fires have less likelihood of throwing sparks or torching nearby vegetation
  • Burn nothing larger than the diameter of your wrist -- this allows for both a clean burn (no hot logs that you will be tempted to leave behind), and helps keep a fire low
  • Break or cut wood so that it fits within your fire -- sticking a 20ft log in one end and burning it down is a bad idea
  • Consider using a fire blanket under your fire to reduce the chance of igniting below ground roots (which also reduces fire scars)
  • Consider alternatives: a small candle, a lamp. I've backpacked professionally for 15 years and haven't had a fire in the back-country in the last 14.

Addendum: Being "defensive" also means being prepared if all goes south in a hurry. Have water, or a bucket of sand/non-organic soil nearby to help stop spot fires if it escapes your ring. A proper tool (shovel) should be on hand if car camping.

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+1 for a good answer. One thing to add is look up before you build the fire. –  cpilko Mar 20 '13 at 13:02
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+1 Good answer. I'd also add, keep a container of water right by the fire. If the water is handy, you can put out the fire when it's small. If you have to go get water, that gives the fire time to spread. –  Don Branson Mar 20 '13 at 16:31
    
good points - added both. –  LBell Mar 21 '13 at 19:34
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