How to Revive a Dying Fire at Your Campsite

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A roaring campfire offers a great vibe for fun and building memories, but not if it dies down and you are having to figure out how to revive it. Luckily, there are quick and easy steps you can take to save a dying fire.

Save and revive a dying fire by adding more oxygen through stoking it with a stick or getting more oxygen to the base with a bellows or blower. You can also add quick burning fuels such as a firelog, cardboard or newspaper. When saving a dying fire, add your smallest pieces of firewood and add wood in a teepee shape.

Read below to find out ways you can revive and save your dying fire with things you have on hand at your campsite. Notice that I don’t mention lighter fluid. Yes, squirting lighter fluid into your fire will make it flare up, but it is also very unsafe.

Stoke It

A person stoking a campfire with a stick at night

If your fire has been roaring well for awhile and then began to die out, it may be that your campfire has built up a good bed of embers and your wood has also slumped down, choking off the oxygen supply that your fire needs.

Solve this by using a stick or fire poker to stoke the fire. Use the poker to push and pull the embers around at the base. This not only makes spaces for air to enter the fire, but it also introduces more oxygen to the embers which help to reignite the logs above them.

Your poker can also be used to lift up an end of a piece of firewood that has collapsed and reposition it on top of another to offer another place for oxygen to fuel the fire.

Use a Bellows

A bellows is any device that blows more oxygen into your fire, which then cranks up the heat in your burn. Adding more vital oxygen in this way can revive a dying fire quickly and easily.

There are several pieces of equipment that can be used as a bellows, some of which are made specifically for the job. There are also some things that you may already have at your campsite that you can use as an improvised bellows to bring your fire back to life.

Campfire Bellows

A woman using a campfire bellows to revive a dying campfire

A campfire bellows is made specifically for the job of adding oxygen to the base of your fire. It is simply a collapsible, hollow tube of steel that put near the middle of your fire and blow into. I have found this to work really well at cranking up the heat and bringing back flames in a fire that was going out. In a pinch, a metal pipe or hollow stick will also do the job. But, if you don’t have access to a campfire bellow or other safe hollow tube that you could use, there are other things that could work that you may have lying around.

Air Mattres Pump

This is something that you may have packed with your gear already, and if it’s battery-powered or if you have an extension cord that will help it reach the fire, you’re in luck! Turn it on and aim it near the base of your fire and it will quickly fuel your dying fire, bringing back the heat and flames. You can find one here.

A leaf blower will also work, although only use this if you are in an area that can handle a larger fire safely because it adds so much oxygen so quickly that your fire could get out of control easily.

Watch Big Crazy Outdoor Adventures demonstrate this below.

BBQ Dragon

Along the same lines, there is something called the BBQ Dragon that is designed for use with a charcoal grill but could serve double-duty as a campfire bellows. It is a battery-powered fan on an adjustable gooseneck base with a big clip on the end and it could be positioned next to your fire and used in a similar way as the air mattress pump. Chances are low that you have this hanging around your campsite already, but if you are into grilling you may want to look into their system as it is a piece of equipment that could serve a few purposes for you.

Fan Your Fire

If you are having trouble maintaining your campfire and have none of the things above to help you feed it more oxygen, then you may have to take the simple route. Find something like a cookie sheet, a piece of cardboard, or something similar that you can use as a fan.

This flat item can be used to, literally, fan your flames. This isn’t ideal as it fans the entire fire, not just the base, which is the most effective, and you run the risk of putting your fire out completely if you don’t have enough hot embers. But, in a pinch and with a dying fire that had previously been well established, it could definitely work.

Since this isn’t a very controlled way to go about this, be very careful that you aren’t fanning burning embers and ash too far from your fire, especially in an area that could easily burn.

Add a Firelog

If you have a Duraflame firelog, or any other brand, adding on of these to the base of your dying fire could save it. It is simply a combination of sawdust and wax, making it highly flammable. Having a few of these in your camping gear for emergencies is a good idea, anyway.

When trying to save your dying campfire, you could try just using half of one to conserve your supply. Be sure you have another piece of firewood ready to put on top once it gets going to build up your roaring fire.

Throw in Some Sugar

If you have sugar in your cooking gear at your campsite, you can use it to save your dying fire. Sprinkle a few tablespoons into your fire and it will throw up some flames. Sugar is highly flammable, so it may be all you need to give your campfire the kickstart it needs.

Take caution with this, however, and treat it as though you were throwing in lighter fluid. Sugar is incredibly flammable and so you want to act accordingly by only allowing adults to add it to your fire. Also, never add powdered sugar to your fire. The fine powder can ignite but stay in the air potentially creating a very unsafe situation. Only use table sugar or a sugar that is more coarse, and keep your distance.

Add Kindling to the Base

Even if your fire has been established for some time, if it is dying this is the time to act as though you are starting it all over again by pulling out the kindling. The more surface area of the wood that is exposed, the quicker and hotter it will burn, so adding some kindling to the base of the fire may be all you need to get your fire roaring again.

If you have no kindling left, and no axe or hatchet, but you do have a knife, you can still safely generate some firewood using a method called “batoning.” With batoning you are wedging your knife into the firewood and then using a small log as a “baton” to tap the top of the knife, pushing it through the wood until it splits off a small piece that you can now use for kindling!

Watch Survival Know How demonstrate this great tip below:

Find and Add Only the Right Sticks

If you are in a wooded area, you are in luck! Walk the area and pick up any sticks that are finger-thick or less that make a snapping sound when you try to break them. This snap sound assures you that the sticks are dry enough to use on your dying fire to bring it back to life.

If they don’t snap, drop them and keep looking because they are still too wet and will choke out your fire even more. Once you have a good collection of dry sticks that snap, add them to the base of the fire to turn up the heat and bring back your flames.

Watch this demonstrated by Corporals Corner who also shows expert tips on starting and maintaining a fire in the rain.

Throw in Leaves or Needles

Anyone who has ever burned leaves know that they burn up super quickly, but also very hot. Throwing in some leaves may be all you need to revive your dying fire. Just be sure to do this safely and not add a huge armful at once, especially if it is windy. Leaves ignite and burn so quickly that your fire could easily get out of control, and if it is windy, the burning leaves could blow off and create an unsafe situation. Large handfuls at a time should be sufficient to get your fire going.

In addition, pine needles and pine cones could also be used. There has been a recent study that suggested that burning pine needles could emit toxic fumes, which you can read about in an NBC story here, but it does say in the article that it is only harmful in large quantities, which wouldn’t be produced from just a few handfuls of needles, but it is something to be aware of.

Stuff in Campsite Combustibles

If you are desperate to keep your dying fire roaring and you have no access to kindling, dry sticks, or leaves, it may be time to start searching your campsite for other combustibles.

Adding wadded up or rolled up newspaper could work, as could torn or rolled up cardboard or paperboard from your campsite trash bag.

If you are desperate enough and have a woman at your fire who packed some tampons, those can also be used to build some heat and save your dying fire. If they are in cardboard tubes then just take them out of the wrapper and use as-is. If they are in a plastic tube, you will need to pull off the tube first, then use what is inside.

This last tip on combustibles doesn’t help you right now, but in the future, keeping your dryer lint for starting fires is a great idea. If you had some in your gear, it could also be used to quickly kickstart your dying campfire. Even better would be to put it inside of something made of paperboard, like a toilet paper tube. The easiest fire starter I have ever tried uses lint and paperboard from a 6-pack of drinks. If you are a campfire beginner, read about how to easily start and build your next campfire teepee in my article here.

Build a Teepee with Your Firewood

Even with any of the methods mentioned above, your revived fire may not keep going for long if it isn’t built to burn. Once you have your flames back, add your firewood to your fire in a teepee shape.

A teepee works like a chimney with the hot air rising up and and out through the middle of the campfire as oxygen is then pulled into the base, fueling it and keeping it burning. There are many ways to build a campfire and each is useful depending on your needs, but if you are trying to save a dying fire, go with the teepee shape.

Add Smaller Logs

Once you have won back some flames and begun to save your fire, build your teepee using some of your smaller pieces of firewood to start with. Smaller logs have a larger surface area than the bigger pieces, which means that it will burn faster and hotter. Using this method won’t give you a long lasting fire, so once your fire has been re-established, you can use larger pieces of firewood, but when trying to revive your fire, stick with the smaller ones.

I explain this, and other ways to build more heat in your campfire, in this article.

Use Seasoned Firewood

You just brought your campfire back from nearly going out, so now is not the time to give it a piece of greenwood. Reviving your fire is the time to pull out the most aged, dry pieces of wood you have. While they won’t burn long, they will burn hot. In addition, if you have any pieces of softwood in your pile, now is the time to use it as it burns hotter and more quickly than hardwoods. Using dry, softwood will give you an opportunity to re-establish your heat so you can begin laying on longer-lasting larger pieces of hardwood.

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Cooking with a tripod over a fire feels a little like I should be camping next to my covered wagon. It’s old school, rustic, and pretty darn fun. But, if you’re going to cook over an open fire, make sure you get one that’s sturdy! This Lodge tripod is the model that I use and I don’t think it will every give out on me or need replaced. Get yours here and start your campfire cooking adventure now!