A serious topic for new campers to consider is fire ring building. There are the obvious methods and cautions of course such as building a fire ring for a direct purpose or set of purposes and also the primary directives such as— and most importantly —making sure your fire is DEAD out before leaving the area.
A quick mention before I get to the point of this post: Ideally speaking a fire should be dead out and if possible all signs of the fire should be buried and the rocks themselves returned to the environment. If this is not possible or customary to the campsite be sure to at minimum topple the hearth stones onto the wet ash. This mound is easily reassembled by the next camper and best serves to help prevent any remaining embers from blowing away or receiving oxygen to rekindle.
We have another write up that discusses the anatomy and build of what we consider the near perfect fire ring. The article covers a broad range of considerations that you may find useful and interesting. Click here to check it out.
The topic I want to share in this article is about one single, vital aspect of personal safety in the process of building and using a fire pit— hearth stone selection. Rock comes in every shape and size and that spectrum of variance offers countless possibilities in building a fire ring. Harvesting those rocks from around your camping area can itself pose some considerable danger— From scorpions, ground wasps, and snakes to broken glass, finger smashers and sadly even the occasional discovery of a turd from the previous jackass to camp there. ( Sad but true. And for me personally…unfortunately a true story. Yuck doesn’t quite say it. )
While those dangers are unpleasant, arguably the worst danger is inside the rocks themselves. While many of you reading likely know this I’m shocked at the number people I speak to who are completely unaware of it.
A rock with moisture inside of it used in a fire ring is literally a time bomb. This is so because of the very simple physics that water when heated turns into steam. Steam is an expanded form of water that usually gets it way. It expands and whatever it is that is holding it had better be strong. In the case of rocks some are and some aren’t. Some are ALMOST strong enough… and thats the rock that will blow like a grenade when it can no longer contain the rapidly expanding steam inside.
I’ve heard cases of people being horribly wounded and even killed by an exploding stone. I been around fires where rocks have exploded quite dramatically and thankfully no one was hurt. I’ve been around countless fires where even a large stone will simply crack in half. Often times it’s not even noticed until the next day when putting the fire dead out. I’m sure many you have seen this too. The cause of those stones that commonly crack in most cases is also moisture.
Moisture seeps into the weaker stones easily because they are more porous. These stones are weaker because of that porousness but they are also safer in that they rarely, if ever, explode in a dramatic way. The more dense the stone the more likely it won’t absorb enough moisture to explode… however, as mentioned before, that doesn’t mean that just because a stone is harder and less porous that it can’t explode. Even a granite stone can absorb moisture if it’s been submerged in water for a very long time.
I’ll admit that’s all a little confusing if you don’t know much about So how the heck do I tell if my fire ring is gonna go off like a Central Square firework display? Here are the general rules that should keep your fire ring safe…
One should never camp in a dry river bed to start with but if you do camp on or near one mind that the rocks in that area are likely packing plenty of water inside them.
NEVER use a nicely rounded stone. That stone got pretty by spending much of it’s life in flowing water. In the case of an extremely hard stone like granite, that is an ideal atomic bomb hearth stone. It takes forever for water to get in, and forever to evaporate out. BUT, add heat and the water is going to win. Just as water shaped that stone, it will also dramatically reshape it into shrapnel in one horrible instant.
If a stone has any evidence of retaining a lot of moisture in it… just select another. Be cautious even away from rivers. I’ve seen people get desperate for large stones and actually dig out a partially buried stone. That stone had been there forever wicking up moisture from the earth. It blew. Thankfully it was just a loud crack but it could have been much worse.
Well there you have it. We hope this and all our other articles and content alike helps keep your camping trips safe, fun, affordable and occurring often!