Neighborhood Campfires

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Grumpy-Celt on deviantart
Creating community around the bonfire

You don't have to go camping or sleep on the bumpy ground to enjoy the friendly warmth of a glowing campfire. Invite your neighbors for an impromptu backyard fire, complete with roasted marshmallows and ghost stories. It's a relaxing way to end the day and celebrate the last nights of summer or first weekends of autumn.

Adults can chat, kids can play games in the dark, and everyone can roast marshmallows or cuddle in a soft lap until they're drowsy. Here's how to make campfires work in your neighborhood.

Campfires are best begun after dusk. A starry sky and/or full moon will add ambience, but even if the sky is overcast you can enjoy the outdoors. Take a peek outside for a quick weather check, call the neighbors and announce, "It's a campfire night. Come on over!"

Real campfire buffs might enjoy a fire pit built into the ground. Most are lined with metal and surrounded by bricks, patio blocks or large stones. (Plans and kits are available to build your own.) Coleman and other companies make portable outdoor fireplaces, roughly $75-$150, available at discount department stores, hardware stores and on the Web (see below for links). Check your city codes to be sure recreational fires are permitted where you live. Public fire rings in neighborhood parks are another option.

Find fire pits and portable fireplaces or learn more at these Web sites:

Tips for a Foolproof Fire:

  • Line the bottom of your metal fire pan with 1-2 inches of sand and follow all directions provided with a fireplace unit.
  • Tuck wads of newspaper or clothes dryer lint under pieces of very dry wood to get your fire going quickly.
  • Kids can collect and set up the wood but adults should handle all matches. Let older kids keep the fire going.
  • Extinguish the fire when the evening is over but don't move a hot fireplace until it is cool to the touch.
  • Indoor variation: If mosquitoes in your area carry serious diseases this year, try the LaClair's campfire variation: They put candles on a table in the living room, turned off the lights and watched a beautiful sunset together. Then they sat around their pretend fire with Dad on the guitar, singing songs and telling stories. "We are all very busy this summer and slowing down and sitting together was great," reports Mom.

Tell guests to bring bug repellent, sweatshirts, and lawn chairs or blankets to sit on. Snack foods like popcorn, caramel corn, party mix, and gorp (good old raisins and peanuts) are perfect for nibbling. And don't forget drinks and plenty of marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers for s'mores. Flashlights are handy to use on the walk home when backyard paths are dark. A recipe for campfire popcorn appears below.


  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 4 teaspoons popcorn
  • salt
  • heavy-duty foil
  • campfire forks

Tear off an 18-inch piece of foil. Pour the oil and popcorn into the middle. Bring 2 opposite foil corners together above the popcorn and fold them over 3 times to seal well. Bring remaining foil corners up toward the center and roll open edges together to seal the 'foil tent' closed. (There should be enough room inside for the popcorn to pop.) Poke the ends of a campfire fork through the folds of foil at top of pack. Set pack into hot coals until oil sizzles and you hear a kernel pop. Then pick up fork and gently shake the pack above the coals until popping is done. Open the pack and add salt.

Arrange chairs or blankets around the fire and start the fire before guests arrive. Ask a guitar-playing neighbor to strum a few campfire tunes or turn on the radio for some mood music. Activity tester Ryan, age 12, suggests downloading the words to familiar camp songs and printing them out so everyone can sing along. It's fun to share spooky or funny stories, too. Another test family went all-out and set up tents for a camp-like atmosphere. After games and s'mores, the kids crawled into the tents to hear ghost stories.

Roast marshmallows or popcorn, chase fireflies, play hide-and-seek in the dark or play flashlight tag. Little ones might be happiest snuggling in a parent's lap as they listen to stories.

The Bissmeyers and their friends found that sparklers kept the older children happy for quite a while. The Hannan children thought it was neat to play in a patio sandbox by firelight.


  • No running or roughhousing near the fire!
  • Don't touch the metal on a hot fire pit.
  • If a marshmallow catches fire, don't panic. Just blow it out or let it burn up and then roast another one.

All our test families agree that socializing and talking with other adults uninterrupted is a real treat. Watching the fire burn while sipping on a beer or glass of wine can add to the sense of relaxation, too.

Always review fire safety and make sure there are enough adults to watch the kids and the fire. --Jody McClain, whose family entertained 8 adults and 12 kids

We should have had more light in our campfire area. We had many roots and rocks as well as a dog run rope, which could have created some accidents. --Betsy Bissmeyer

This article © 2001-2004 Studio One Networks.

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