Want to know how to build a camp fire that won’t drive everyone crazy with billowing smoke? It’s not as impossible as it might sound; ‘where there’s fire, there doesn’t always have to be smoke,’ or at least, not all that much.
The smoke from fire consists primarily of those elements that aren’t completely burned. Material that is damp or green will not combust completely and puts out a lot of smoke when burned. Twigs, leaves, and evergreen needles also produce a lot of smoke. So, the first step in building a fire that doesn’t pump out too much smoke is the selection of what to burn.
Medium sized pieces of wood, ½ to 3 inches thick and from one to two feet long are best, and, if they are completely dry, they burn completely and emit the least amount of smoke than other wood. Native Americans and other aboriginal people also made relatively smokeless fires by running the droppings of grass eaters such as deer and antelope. The dung of herbivores, if completely dried out, will burn hot and will not emit too much smoke, and contrary to what you might be thinking, it won’t smell all that bad – after all, it’s just recycled vegetation. If you’re camping near a farm or ranch, it should be no problem to find sufficient dried droppings, just make sure you don’t violate any ‘no trespassing’ areas. Coating the wood or droppings with alcohol to ensure overall ignition will also help. It’s also a good idea to burn the sticks from the end, pushing them into the fire as they burn to ensure complete combustion.
Another way to cut down on the smoke from your camp fire is to make sure you build it on a dry surface. If the ground in your camp site is damp, either because it’s in a shaded area where the ground can’t dry out completely, or it has recently rained, a fire built directly on the wet earth will emit more smoke because the wood on the fire that’s not burning will absorb moisture from the ground. You can avoid this by building a platform of dried stones to make your fire on. The platform can either be on the surface or the lining of a shallow fire pit, but it will keep your wood off the ground and dry.
Alcohol also burns with minimum smoke. Building a small alcohol stove will enable you to have a fire that is almost smoke free. A 9-inch or 12-inch pie or cake pan is a good makeshift stove. Pour about one-half to one inch of alcohol, such as sterno, into the pain and light it. The entire surface will light giving even heat for your cooking, and there will hardly be any smoke to speak of.