Safe Ways to Build a Bonfire

Whether your favorite season is summer because of those long days at the beach or are the kind that lives for the ski slopes when the thermometers plummet in winter, who doesn’t love the transition seasons, spring and fall? It’s hard to find fault with warm spring days when everything is coming back to life. Birds are singing again and pretty much everything starts blossoming and blooming. But, as wonderful as all of that, is there really anything better than the first nip in the air that signals that fall is here? The sweltering heat of summer is past and it’s time for gorgeous color changes, long walks, football rivalries and, maybe best of all, those autumn bonfires!  

Most of us have fond memories of backyard bonfires when we were growing up. Some were for the purpose of burning mountains of leaves that had been raked. Others were built for “wienie roasts” and attended by the entire neighborhood. Everyone had their own special method for toasting the perfect marshmallow and the art and intricacy of building s’mores could rival many of today’s cooking shows.

Those childhood bonfires were especially fun because they were so carefree and easy. That’s because there were adults present who were responsible for building and monitoring the fire so that no one got hurt and surrounding property was protected. Now that we are the adults, it is important to know just what all is necessary to insure a safe, fun experience for everyone. That means learning safe ways to build a bonfire.

Steps to Follow for a Safe Bonfire

  • Research legal issues pertaining to your area, including dates, times, locations, etc.
  • Obtain permit if one is necessary
  • Check with local fire department for safety requirements and recommendations
  • Find a clear spot, far away from fences, buildings, trees, roots and plants and sheltered from wind
  • Gather necessary components:
    • Bricks or stones
    • Tinder material, like twigs, pine needles, bark, newspaper, etc.
    • Kindling, small to medium sticks
    • Logs, dry hardwood is best
  • Use bricks or stone to create a circle
  • Place the tinder in the center of the circle, surrounded by the kindling stacked in a teepee shape
  • Arrange logs parallel to each other on two sides of the kindling teepee
  • Repeat for several layers, not more than 5, arranging logs perpendicular to previous layer
  • Drop match into the center so that it ignites the tinder material
  • Watch for sparks and flying embers. Be sure to have a source of water nearby, just in case.

Now, the only thing is left is the search for the perfect stick to roast that wienie and toast those marshmallows! That, of course, and to remember to make sure the fire is completely out before going in for the night.

When the word “Bonfire” is spoken, the hit song by Childish Gambino comes to mind. Here it is in all its glory!

The Best Songs About Fire

Songs are written to express what we often find impossible to say in another way. We do this literally and through symbols, which makes the elements, earth, air, water and fire, favorites of song writers. And, of these, fire is the one that most often shows up in song. Warmth can bring comfort and flames can leave scars, which opens up a wide range for storytellers.  

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of songs that make reference to fire. Just a few of the more well-known songs about fire are:

“Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash

“Set Fire to The Rain” by Adele

“Fire” by Jimi Hendrix

“Fire” by Bruce Springsteen

“Fire” by The Pointer Sisters

“Light My Fire” by The Doors

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel

“Into The Fire” by Sarah McLachlan

“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor

The list could easily go on and on. Some lesser-known songs about fire become more well-known as time passes and similar tragedies occur.

James Keelaghan wrote “Cold Missouri Waters” about the Mann Gulch Fire of 1949 in which 13 firefighters died. Most of them belonged to a team of smokejumpers who parachuted into the area only to be almost immediately cut off from any escape route by unexpectedly high winds. Within minutes, a “blow-up” of the fire covered 3,000 acres in less than ten minutes. One smokejumper, Wagner Dodge, made a desperate attempt to survive by creating an escape fire. He tried to get the others to do the same but they ran for other cover instead. Dodge dove into the middle of the charred area the fire left and prayed.

The final two verses of the song tell the story:

Sky had turned red, smoke was boiling
Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind
I don’t know why I just thought it
I struck a match to waist high grass running out of time
Tried to tell them, Step into this fire I set
We can’t make it, this is the only chance you’ll get
But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead
I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters

And when I rose, like the phoenix
In that world reduced to ashes there were none but two survived
I stayed that night and one day after
Carried bodies to the river, wonder how I stayed alive
Thirteen stations of the cross to mark to their fall
I’ve had my say, I’ll confess to nothing more
I’ll join them now, because they left me long before
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri shore

There are songs about fires that actually happened but were less dramatic and tragic than “Cold Missouri Waters”. The English rock band, Deep Purple, witnessed a fire that was started during a Frank Zappa concert when a fan fired a flare gun at the ceiling. The venue, a casino, was totally destroyed, along with all of Zappa’s musical equipment. Deep Purple members, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Anderson Paice then wrote the song “Smoke on the Water” about the experience:

We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn’t have much time
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground
When it all was over
We had to find another place
But Swiss time was running out
It seemed that we would lose the race

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

Then there are the songs that tell about the courage and sacrifice of real life, modern day firefighters. “The Firefighter Song” was written by New York State firefighter, Paul Cummings, after responding to a fatal fire that occurred shortly after the birth of his daughter. He wrote the song for himself in an effort to try and make sense of the tragedy and reconcile his duties on the job with those at home. Cummings never intended for the song to be made public, but once a few of the firefighters in his company heard it, the song became a hit. The final chorus is a good representation of what was going through his head after that fire:

And they don’t want any money
For the things they train to do
They help the ones in need
And they see the whole job through
Well aware of the costs, That it takes to save a life
But that doesn’t matter, To the ones they are inside
We all need to sing, Yeah we all need to sing
We all need to sing, that firefighter’s song
And we all need to pray, cause that firefighter’s gone

What Is Stop, Drop and Roll?

It is one thing to sit in a classroom listening to a safety presentation or to read about proper procedures in the event of a fire and a totally different experience when actually faced with it. The difference can be expressed in one word; panic. This is what led to the “Stop, Drop and Roll” program and why it has proven effective.

For the vast majority of people, there is both fascination and fear when it comes to fire. However, fascination vanishes in a heartbeat when confronted with an uncontrolled fire. Few injuries are more painful than a burn, and there are few things more terrifying than part or all of your body catching on fire! There is a reason why it seems perfectly realistic in movies that someone would leap from the upper levels of a tall building, with zero chance of survival, rather than face the prospect of being engulfed with flames.

A severe burn, the kind that can result when someone’s clothing catches on fire, can not only be extremely painful, but it is one of the leading causes of unintentional death in the U.S. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), more than 300 children end up in the emergency room every day because of burn-related injuries. Of those 300 per day, two die from being burned. This is why it is crucial that everyone, especially children, know what to do if clothing catches on fire.  

Stop, Drop and Roll

To minimize injury, when clothing catches fire, the response should be immediate:

Stop – try not to panic and above all, do not run. Running only feeds the fire with more oxygen, which is the last thing you want to do.

Drop – as quickly as possible, drop to the ground in a prone position.

Roll – immediately start rolling over and over, backwards and forwards, in order to shut off the supply of oxygen and smother the flames. Do not stop until the fire is completely out.  

The “Stop, Drop and Roll” program has proven very effective. Through the years, there have been suggestions to make it better. One was to add “Cover”, which meant to cover the face with the hands before dropping and rolling. This would help protect the face from burns and potential scarring, as well as keep the super-heated air from burning the lungs. The argument against this is that it makes the rolling part less effective. The other main suggestion was to add “Cool” to the end, because of the importance of cooling the burn area as soon as possible. The discussion about enhancing “Stop, Drop and Roll” is ongoing. The main concern is that its effectiveness comes from its simplicity, and no one wants to jeopardize that, especially when they want people to visit their website.

If you would like to learn more about Stop Drop and Roll, please watch the video below:

What Is the Flammable Fabrics Act?

The Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA), was enacted by the U. S. Department of Commerce in 1953 and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. There had been increasing public concern and outcry resulting from a number of serious incidents in which children were severely burned. Many of these involved brushed rayon, high-pile sweaters that became known as “torch sweaters” because of the frequency in which they caught fire. Children’s cowboy chaps, often marketed with the name of the popular television star, Gene Autry, were made of brushed rayon, which ignited easily and flash burned.

The law was designed to prohibit the sale of articles of clothing and fabrics which are highly flammable. Clothing, or wearing apparel, is a fairly vague term but, basically, means any article of clothing, costume, uniform, etc., intended to be worn by an individual, but it did exclude hats, gloves and footwear.

In 1967, with the support of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress amended the Flammable Fabrics Act and expanded its coverage beyond clothing. This amendment added interior furnishings, as well as paper, plastic, foam and other materials used in wearing apparel and interior furnishings. Under the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), flammability standards were established for clothing textiles, vinyl plastic film (used in clothing), carpets and rugs, children’s sleepwear and mattresses and mattress pads. Enforcement is also under the purview of the CPSC and carried out through ongoing testing and inspections. These flammability standards, which regulate clothing and the textiles intended for the manufacture of clothing, are contained in Volume 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subchapter D – Flammable Fabrics Act Regulation, in the following references:

  • Part 1610 Standard for the Flammability Testing of Clothing Textiles
  • Part 1611 Standard for the Flammability of Vinyl Plastic Film
  • Part 1615 Standards for the Flammability of Children’s Sleepwear: Sizes 0 through 6X
  • Part 1616 Standards for the Flammability of Children’s Sleepwear: Sizes 7 through 14

There is an ongoing balancing in act in which the government strives to keep its citizens safe without going overboard with regulations. This often results in a basic level of protection from items that pose a high probability of risk. The Flammable Fabrics Act is such a standard in that it provides minimal protection. While much better than in the days of “torch sweaters”, there is still a need to be cautious in our purchases. According to the National Association of Fire Marshals, “more than 4,000 consumers suffer severe burn injuries and an estimated 150 or more die when their clothing ignites from even minimal exposure to ordinary household ignition sources.”

It always important to do our own research and practice vigilance as consumers. Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, may well remain the best advice of all.

What Kind of Toxic Materials Are Found in Fire Smoke?

Ask anyone about dangerous occupations and being a firefighter will inevitably make the top of the list. What most people do not realize, though, is that it isn’t the fire, or even the building collapsing around them that is the most dangerous: it’s the toxic material found in fire smoke. This is even more true, today, because our homes and commercial buildings are increasingly filled with chemicals in plastics, foams, fabrics and other materials that weren’t in existence not all that long ago.

Breathing smoke during or even following a fire is hazardous because not all materials burn cleanly, resulting in toxic-laced smoke and soot being produced. These substances can be extremely harmful to anyone breathing them in. Even though firefighters wear protective clothing, masks and carry oxygen tanks, not everything seals well enough to remove all toxins.

Different types of fires release different substances. Every fire produces smoke that contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter, which is microscopic solids or liquids suspended in the smoke. Particulates have the ability to penetrate into the lungs and blood stream and may cause DNA mutations, heart attacks and other serious issues. Depending on type, specific fires can contain toxic materials, such as:

  • aldehydes
  • acid gases
  • cyanide
  • sulfur dioxide
  • nitrogen oxides
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • benzene
  • toluene
  • styrene
  • various metals
  • dioxins

When carbon monoxide is inhaled, oxygen in the body is depleted, which can lead to headaches, heart conditions and reduced alertness. Particulates that reach the lungs can cause a wide range of health issues, such as shortness of breath, respiratory irritation, as well as make conditions like asthma and heart disease worse. Increased physical exertion can make cardiovascular issues more pronounced during exposure to carbon monoxide and particulate matter, which creates a perfect storm of opportunity for firefighters to be susceptible to the worst of these effects.

Inhaling smoke for even a short time can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. The odor is often nauseating. Breathing becomes more difficult. Even more serious, there is the potential for long term health effects from exposure to the various components of smoke. For example, asbestos was supposedly banned from construction in the U.S. in 1980, but it is still present, not only in older buildings but also newer construction where contractors have gotten around the regulations. Exposure to asbestos can cause various health issues, the most serious and well-known is mesothelioma, cancer of the lungs, abdomen and heart.

Common sense would indicate that exposure to smoke should be limited, but, of course, that is difficult, if not impossible, when charging into burning buildings is in your job description on your website. The more research that is done on the effects of toxic substances in smoke, the clearer the risk to firefighters.

Whenever you see a fire like the one below, please evacuate and stay safe!

What’s Causing The California Wildfires?

Wildfires move terrifyingly fast, reaching speeds of nearly 15 miles an hour. They literally consume everything in their path, including trees, brush, homes, wildlife and people. More than 100,000 wildfires rage through the U.S., on average, each year, charring and clearing between 4 and 5 million acres. In California, the hot, dry Santa Ana winds contribute to an already serious fire situation by carrying sparks for miles. There is another factor, however, that experts believe to be far more responsible for causing the wildfires in California, and that is people.

We know that wildfires can be caused by nature. Typically, depending on the location, the trigger is lightening or lava. In fact, in remote parts of the world, natural events are the prime sources of wildfires. Not true in California or the rest of the U.S. According to the National Park Service, a good estimate is that 90 percent of wildfires in the U.S. are caused by people. The exact means varies. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Campfires
  • Burning trash
  • Smoking
  • Vehicles (sparks from overheated tailpipes, dragging chains while towing, etc)
  • Kids playing with fire
  • Gunfire
  • Power tools

In California, the heat during the summer, combined with those Santa Ana winds and ongoing drought conditions make for ideal conditions for wildfires but they still require something to get them started. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) reports that, besides the above list and other, less common sparks, one in five wildfires in California is started by arson.

The motivation behind intentionally setting a fire that has the potential of taking human life and destroying vast amounts of wildlife, property and resources is unfathomable, but, whether by intent or accident, the result is the same. And it can be catastrophic. There is, however, a silver lining to this very dark cloud. Lightning strikes and volcanic eruptions are beyond our control. One day, perhaps, that will change, but no one sees it happening anytime soon. Human behavior, on the other hand, can be changed and, because it is the behavior of people that leads to the vast majority of wildfires, that means we have the ability to make positive changes.

Various organizations, like Cal Fire, are working on those changes as part of their overall mission of preventing fires. They are employing a wide range of programs that include pre-fire engineering, vegetation management, fire planning procedures and, especially, educational programs designed to increase the awareness of fire hazards and steps leading to prevention.   

The cause of wildfires and the remedy can be pretty well summed up in this statement from Cal Fire spokesman, Daniel Berlant, “Weather doesn’t cause fires–weather just causes a fire to burn. It’s the people that have the role of actually preventing that fire.”

Who is Smokey the Bear?

Smokey Bear has been educating Americans about the dangers of fires for longer than most of us have been alive. In fact, the Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign is the longest-running public service advertising campaign of all time in the United States. Created in 1944, Smokey, usually depicted pouring a bucket of water on a campfire and admonishing that “only you can prevent forest fires” soon became recognized around the world.

But, how did Smokey Bear become Smokey the Bear? In the spring of 1950, a crew of firefighters battling a wildfire in the mountains of New Mexico were trapped by the raging fire. They survived by taking cover in a rockslide while the fire burned around them for over an hour. When it had finally passed, they discovered a small bear cub that had tried to escape the fire by climbing a tree. He was alive but badly burned. The New Mexico Department of Fish and Game heard about the cub and helped get him medical care. Even though this was nearly a half century before the birth of social media, Smokey’s story went viral. He ended up in the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and became the real life Smokey Bear.

Smokey Bear had so many fans and received so much attention, including numerous gifts of honey, that the post office had to assign him his own zip code. Soon the popular song bearing his name was released by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins. And this is where Smokey Bear became Smokey the Bear — another syllable was needed here to maintain the rhythm of the chorus.

With a Ranger’s hat and shovel
and a pair of dungarees,
you will find him in the forest
always sniffin’ at the breeze.
People stop and pay attention
when he tells ’em to beware,
’cause ev’rybody knows that
he’s the Fire Prevention Bear.

Chorus:
Smokey the Bear, Smokey the Bear.
Prowlin’ and a growlin’ and a sniffin’ the air.
He can find a fire before it starts to flame.
That’s why they call him Smokey,
That was how he got his name.

The advertising campaign changed through the years. Starting with “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires”, it became “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” in 1947 and remained unchanged until 2001. Then, in response to massive outbreaks of wildfires, it was changed one more time to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”, which is the message it presents today.

As for little Smokey Bear, he lived to a ripe old age in the National Zoo. When he died, in 1976, he was returned home to the mountains of New Mexico, and he was buried in the Smokey Bear Historical Park. His legend lives on and continues to educate and increase awareness about the dangers of wildfires and the recognition that prevention continues to be up to us.

If you would like to listen to the Smokey the Bear song, please watch the video below at full volume!

Fire Prevention Tips

Did you know that faulty electrical wiring is the most common cause of fires in the country?
Did you know that April is the month with the most fires?
Did you know that fires emit greenhouse gases?

Do you and your family have a plan in the event of a fire? The following cartoon explains some facts about fires, some safety tips that you and your family can do to help prevent fires, and what you should do if there is a fire in your home.

This video is from the United Kingdom, so please do not dial 117 in the event of an emergency. In America, we dial 911. Although a lot of people know this information, it’s always great to remind your kids about fire safety and come up with a plan.

Fire safety week is rapidly approaching and we expect all of you to be involved with these years slogan:

EVERY SECOND COUNTS: PLAN 2 WAYS OUT!