An essential part of any camping trip is sitting around the campfire in the evening. In the pitch darkness and cold of the night, out in the wilderness, far away from the lights of the city, a campfire provides a sanctuary of light and heat.
So, just how hot is a campfire? Well, it can vary anywhere between 600 and 2000°F.
Where does your campfire fall on that scale? That depends on a few things. Read on to find out all about campfire temperature, what affects it, and what you can do to control it.
The Temperature of a Campfire
If you’re looking for a quick answer, a campfire can reach internal temperatures in excess of 2000°F. That’s hot enough to melt metals such as gold, silver, bronze and copper. That kind of heat is no joke.
However, not every campfire is that hot. Only a very large fire, such as a bonfire, will reach such extreme temperatures.
Your average campfire will usually reach internal temperatures of around 900°F, or just over.
That’s still hot enough to melt lead and tin though, so we’re still talking serious heat.
With fires of this size, the external flames, also known as the thermal plume region, will usually reach temperatures of around 600°F. This is commonly referred to as the cooking temperature, as it’s the temperature you need to have in mind for campfire cooking.
Of course, the average temperature of a campfire isn’t always going to line up with your campfire. Temperatures can also fall anywhere in between. This depends on the size of the fire, but only to an extent. There are several other factors that also directly affect the temperature of a campfire.
So, how do you get an idea of how hot your particular campfire is? Here’s everything you need to know to be able to make an educated guess.
Factors That Affect Fire Temperature
Aside from how big it is, the temperature of a campfire will also depend largely on the wood. What about the wood? 3 things:
1. What types of wood you’re burning
Different species of wood burn at different speeds. For this reason, certain kinds of wood will produce more heat than others. Some of the best species of wood for a campfire are cedar, oak, ash and hickory.
Another thing that’s going to make a huge difference is how dry the wood you’re using is. The dryer your firewood is, the better it will burn and the higher the temperature of the fire will ultimately be.
Pro tip: if your firewood could be dryer, place it around the edges of the campfire once you get it going. The heat from the fire will help dry it out so that it burns better.
2. The size of the pieces of wood you’re using
The wood you’ll need for a campfire can be sorted into 3 categories based on the size of the pieces:
- Tinder: small twigs or shavings or shreds of wood
- Kindling: larger twigs and smaller chunks of wood
- Firewood: larger chunks of wood
It’s important to have the right balance of tinder, kindling and firewood, and to know when to add which. If you can’t find the right size, you’ll want to split the wood with a hatchet.
You want to start with a lot of tinder, as it catches fire easily, so you’ll need lots of it to get your fire going.
Next, add some kindle to give the fire some oomph and keep it alive.
Once you’ve got a nice fire going, add your firewood. Because it burns slowly, it’ll keep your fire going for a while, so you can sit back and relax.
From here on out, all you have to do is stoke the fire here and there when you see that it needs it. Do this by adding more wood to feed the fire, and occasionally poking and stirring the coals and ash underneath
3. The positioning of your firewood
You want to try and create a teepee-like structure out of your kindling above the tinder to begin with.
As you lay your firewood down into the fire pit, do your best to maintain the teepee structure. This will ensure enough oxygen flows through the fire to keep it burning strong.
Having a healthy amount of oxygen flowing through your campfire will cause the firewood to burn faster, thereby making it hotter.
You’ll find that if a light breeze is blowing, your fire will burn much quicker than it would otherwise. On the other hand, if there isn’t enough wind, you might need to fan the flames in order to keep your fire going.
What kind of fire pit you’re using also plays a role in the flow of oxygen, ultimately affecting the temperature of the campfire. A metal fire pit, for instance, won’t allow as much oxygen to flow through your fire, so it won’t get as hot as it would in another type of fire pit.
What Can the Color of a Fire Tell You About Its Temperature?
Another thing about a fire that can give you some idea of the temperature is the color of the flames.
If a fire is a deep red color, the temperature is likely just above 1000°F.
If the flames are orange or yellow, this means that the fire is hotter. This color indicates that the temperature of the fire is around 2000°F.
What’s interesting is that the hottest fires are those with flames that appear blue or white – colors that we normally associate with the cold.
What are average metal melting points?
You may be familiar with what happens to an aluminum beverage container if it gets tossed into a fireplace. It melts down and becomes nearly invisible. but leaves behind some remnants at its base and lid.
Here are some average melting points of various metals you may have around a campfire:
- Aluminum: 1220°F (660°C)
- Aluminum Alloy: 865-1240°F (463-671°C)
- Cast Iron: 2060°F (1127°C)
- Stainless Steel: 2750°F (1510°C)
A typical fire can be so intense that it melts aluminum cans, but won’t be so hot as to damage tougher materials like cast iron or stainless steel which both have a higher melting point.
This is why it is best to stick to cast iron and stainless steel for any campfire cooking utensils.
Fire Safety Tips
Now that you know just how hot a campfire is, you might be inspired to brush up on your fire safety knowledge. This is incredibly important, as fire can be extremely dangerous, so you don’t want to make any silly mistakes that can end up in disaster.
Here are a few tips to make sure you enjoy your campfire safely:
- Never light a campfire in windy weather conditions. Strong winds can cause unstable combustion. They can also blow embers away from the fire pit and onto surrounding vegetation, property and people.
- Make sure the species of wood you’re using is safe to burn. Some species, such as oleander and rhododendron among others can lead to health issues if you breathe in the smoke.
- Make sure your fire pit is large enough to contain your campfire. If the fire passes over the perimeter of the fire pit, it becomes more difficult to contain, which can pose a serious risk.
- Always clear the area around your campfire of any dry wood, dry vegetation, or other flammable material on the ground nearby.
- Keep an adequate amount of water on hand in case of emergencies.
- Never leave a campfire unattended. When a fire gets out of control, it escalates unbelievably quickly, so you need to make sure someone is around to keep the fire contained at all times.
- Once you’ve extinguished your campfire, make sure you haven’t left behind any burning hot coals or embers. The best way to do this is by throwing a generous amount of water over the fire pit before you leave. Although many people insist that soil can be used alternatively, water is always a much safer bet.
- Consider using a fire ring for added precaution. These are a great way to make extra sure your campfire doesn’t get out of hand.
So, there you have it. Now you know just how hot a campfire is, and what you can do to adjust the temperature of your fire.
This information may seem trivial, but it can actually be really useful. We all know that fire is hot, but knowing a bit more about just how hot it is will make cooking on the campfire a much simpler task, for instance. Plus, the more you know about fire, the less likely it is that something will go wrong.
On an endnote, I can’t stress enough the importance of adhering to fire safety regulations. The consequences of a fire getting out of hand can be horrendous and pose a grave threat to human life and wildlife, so you can’t be careful enough.