The ideal is to create a fast-burning, smokeless, relatively hot fire in order to create a base of glowing coals.
Nothing is more pleasant on a summer evening than to sit around an open campfire with family or friends, roasting wieners and marshmallows or simply watching flickering flames. A rim of steel salvaged from an old gasoline barrel and recessed into the ground works well in campfire containment.
Cold chisel a 12-inch slice off the end of a metal barrel (I used a 23-inch-diameter one) which gives both a steel base and sides. Backfill the hole bottom with sand for about six inches to provide a solid but pliable non-flammable base, placing the container at centre and filling the remaining distance between the metal and soil with sand to provide a heat-resistant barrier between the barrel and any possible flammable underground material. (Dead tree roots can carry a glowing ember for a considerable distance underground with possible fire eruptions after surfacing a substantial distance from the source).
Bury the container about 10 inches leaving approximately two inches as a safety rim above ground. This seems to be sufficient to create enough updraft to prevent air currents dipping into the pit and coming up the other side carrying both smoke and embers. Wind speed is slowest at the ground surface and fires are least likely to be affected by adjoining circulation patterns at this level Use the driest hardwood you can find or even old boards split into small sticks placed teepee style in the middle with paper as an accelerant underneath. The ideal is to create a fast-burning, smokeless, relatively hot fire in order to create a base of glowing coals. Onto this, a larger round of split hardwood (white poplar, maple) fireplace-size logs are added. If there is a decent base of coals sufficient to successfully ignite these logs there should be next to no smoke, and what little there is shouldn’t last very long.
It is insufficiently cured firewood dumped onto a relatively cold ember base that creates the unpleasant smouldering, smoking flame. Try to avoid pine as it tends to explode into arrays of bursting sparks — a fire hazard if winds pick up or dry materials are close enough to be ignited.
We placed a ring of flat, variable-coloured field stones approximately three feet out from centre, also set on a base of sand. Sand allows stones to settle with just enough latitude to give the installation a bit of character. (After all, if we wanted a pristine, perfectly flat and round circle we would have used concrete.)
Around the pit we use large, portable chunks of trees wide enough to support planks and we are set for the evening.
A large bucket of water should be inconspicuously set nearby in the event something unexpected (such as a sudden rising wind) happens with the fire. At worst, a huge cloud of steam will be produced if the water is needed, but the fire will be out and the pit undamaged.
After all, how much havoc can anyone wreak on a skid of field stones, a yard of sand and a chunk off an old gasoline drum buried in the ground?
Stan Harder writes from St. Brides, Alberta