Mound Fires – Leave No Trace Fires
Knowing how to build a mound fire is a useful skill for anyone who enjoys a campfire but is also serious about preserving the natural environment for others to enjoy. It’s a great technique for bolstering your Leave No Trace skillset.
If you try to follow the seven Leave No Trace Principals, you’ll know that number 5 is “Minimise the effects of Fire”. MINIMISE. Leave No Trace does not ban campfires, it simply asks that we try, as far as possible, to have no impact. We, at Campfire Kitchen, depend on fire. We use it when camping for food and heat. Lighting a campfire is a skill that we believe every young person, let alone Scout, should have. With this skill, comes the responsibility to not damage our environment for others.
If you look through our recipes, you’ll see that most of them are cooked on open fires. We use fire barrels (or altar fires) on Scout Camps and established fire rings if we’re somewhere free range. You’ll also see we have meals cooked on mound fires. As far as I can figure, beaches are fair game for fire – if you have your small cooking fire within the high tide mark, it should be all gone by morning, scattered by the sea. Where we can’t light a fire for whatever reason, you’ll notice the use of stoves.
Mound Fires are a great tool for outdoor enthusiasts because you don’t lose any of the aesthetic of a campfire. Barrels and altar fires are great when you’re on an established campsite but nothing beats a real fire when you’re wild camping in the woods. Some readers will disagree with me and I have been banned from Facebook Groups on Wild Camping for holding this view. The (incorrect) theory is that all campfires leave a trace, I argue that if I do everything right, you’ll not know there was a fire there. It’s the same as a lot of things; the actions of an irresponsible few can ruin things for everyone else. We’ve all been hiking through seemingly pristine wilderness only to come across a fire-scarred piece of woodland with empty lager cans strewn around the site. That’s not what we’re doing here. With a well laid mound fire, no-one will know you were there. No trace left!
How to Lay a Leave No Trace Mound Fire
You’ll need to carry some sort of barrier. In Scouts, we used a cheap fire blanket but I know a guy who carries an old coffee sack in his rucksack for the purpose. You could even use a bin liner if it’s only going to be a quick fire. The barrier is not supposed to be heatproof, it just makes cleaning up later a bit easier.
The barrier goes down on the ground and you then build a heatproof layer up on top of it. Sand is great for this, but another option is loose soil, perhaps from the hollow left by a fallen tree. You’ll need a layer of soil or sand around 15cm deep. Level it off and ensure it’s wider than what your fire will be to allow you to spread the coals later.
Light your fire on top of this layer. Only go for a fire as big as you need, that’s key in making your you don’t damage the ground underneath.
Allow your fire to burn right down to ash. Once you’re sure it’s cool, you can scatter the sand or soil back to where it came from along with a good soaking of water. This ensures it’s fully extinguished. There should be no mark on the forest floor, grass or rock that was underneath.
How to Use Mound Fires at a Normal Scout Meeting
This was a great activity that we did in Scouts recently. We practised some tool safety with regards to axes, got the Scouts to build their fires and then they made hot chocolates. They were marked in their patrols by the tidiness of which they left their area – tricky as there was so many daffodils growing!
If you’re interested in reading more about Leave No Trace and the implications it has on how we approach fires in wild places, then please visit – The Centre for Outdoor Ethics’ website.
Corona Virus Isolation Edit
When we started writting this post, it was all about firelighting when out in the wild. Now that we’re all in self isolation and we can’t go out for fun, I know we’re struggling for things to do to keep ourselves busy. Surely the ultimate test for a Leave No Trace Mound Fire, is on your lawn? One of our Scouts recently sent this picture when taking part in 61st Merchant’s Quay’s Indooree 2020.
If lighting a fire and cooking a sausage in the middle of your parents’ lawn isn’t faith in your LNT skills, I don’t know what is.