People often use the words bonfire and campfire interchangeably, but are they actually the same thing? While they have similarities, they serve different purposes, and the biggest difference is their size.

Campfires are small, controlled fires designed to provide warmth and heat for cooking on a campout, while a bonfire is a large fire built for a wider range of purposes. Read on to learn all about the differences between them.

What Is a Campfire?

A campfire is a small fire that is built during a campout. It is usually contained in a fire ring or a fire pit, and people gather around it to cook and eat. Campfires help to keep the bugs away and provide warmth and light.

Campfires are built in a fire ring or a fire pit at campsites, but a temporary site can be made if there is none. They are built in an open area, but a space can be cleared if necessary. These fires are small and designed to provide a warm space to gather and cook for a small group of people.

What Is a Bonfire?

A bonfire is a large fire. It is built outdoors, and it is controlled, but very big. Bonfires can be built to dispose of waste materials or as a part of a large celebration. There are many different rituals that are tied to bonfires, and some are religious in nature.

Bonfires are built in open spaces such as meadows or fields away from trees and brush. This is extremely important, as it is easy for a large fire to jump and spread to surrounding areas if it can. Bonfires should never be left unattended.

How Is a Campfire Made?

Even though a campfire is a smaller fire, safety is still important. Campfires should always be built in a fire ring or a fire pit away from brush, trees, and tents. Often campsites have fire rings prebuilt for safe use, but people can build one if necessary. Follow these steps to build a safe fire ring:

  • Choose a space that is clear and away from trees, brush, and tents.
  • Gather large rocks and make a fire ring.
  • Dig a hole inside the ring that is at least six inches deep and two feet in diameter.
  • Clear the area outside of the fire ring of any debris or flammable materials.

Once you have a safe fire ring or fire pit, it is time to build the campfire. You may want to bring kindling in case it is damp or you have trouble finding items to get the fire started. You can bring wood shavings or strips of cardboard to help get your fire started.

There are three types of wood you need to start a campfire, which include tinder, kindling, and wood. Tinder is the equivalent of wood shavings, and it needs to be dry and light so that it catches fire easily. Kindling helps get the fire going, and this includes the strips of cardboard or smaller sticks. Wood is actually logs and larger pieces of wood that you gather.

Follow these steps to get the campfire going:

  • Use matches or a lighter to light your tinder.
  • Slowly add in kindling and let it catch fire.
  • Add wood in a teepee style around the kindling and tinder.

When you are ready to go to sleep or leave the campfire, it must be completely extinguished. This is critical as even a smoldering pile of embers can lead to a dangerous uncontrolled fire if left unattended.

You should have a bucket with you or find something that can carry water. Drown the campfire completely. You need to use a stick to mix the embers and ashes with the dampened soil.

In addition, scrape the logs, and once you believe the fire is completely extinguished, check for any lingering heat. The entire fire pit should be cool to the touch before you leave the campfire.

How Is a Bonfire Made?

Bonfires are much larger fires, but the process for building one is very similar. A bonfire should be built in an open field or on the beach away from any trees, brush, or flammable materials. Often people use bonfires to burn trash if they have a large enough property.

You should make sure to mark out the area of the bonfire with rocks or some other nonflammable item. In addition, dig a pit to help contain it. To start the bonfire, you will still need tinder and kindling, but you may be burning much larger items such as wood pallets or large logs.

You may need a permit to build a bonfire. It is very important to check with local authorities before you decide to build one. If you are burning trash, there may be guidelines for what is permitted. As with smaller campfires, a bonfire should never be left unattended, and you may need to have fire extinguishers on hand before you start.

Unlike campfires, bonfires are not used for cooking; they are used for burning. Originally, bonfires were part of a religious ceremony designed to offer sacrifices or burn bones of animals considered sacred to the gods. People have used bonfires since ancient times, and they provide a service, but they can be incredibly dangerous because of their size.

Because bonfires are so large, they provide a lot more heat than campfires, and people do not normally sit near them.

Safety Precautions

The most important thing about building any kind of fire is to take safety precautions. If you are building a bonfire, you must check with local authorities to make sure that you obtain any necessary permits.

There are weather and air quality reports that you need to pay attention to before starting a fire. Take a look at the following:

  1. Fire Weather Warning: The National Weather Service will issue a warning if conditions are likely to create a risk for wildfires spreading rapidly. It can also be called a Red Flag Warning, and while it may not be illegal to build a campfire during these conditions, you may want to take extreme precautions. Many of the uncontrolled wildfires start from a simple campfire that was not properly extinguished or was left unattended. While this can happen even in better conditions, the incredible destruction and devastation that fires can cause is significant and every precaution should be taken to ensure that uncontrolled wildfires do not occur.
  2. Dry Air Conditions: When humidity drops, the air is more dry. This allows fires to spread and burn more rapidly than when there is more humidity in the air. Humidity can leave condensation and moisture on surrounding objects, which makes them less flammable. Although fire can spread in any conditions, you need to be extremely cautious when there is dry air.
  3. High Winds: Wind is another agent that can quickly spread a fire. Sparks or embers can easily be picked up by the wind and blow to surrounding areas of brush or trees, and fires can be started this way.

How to Cook Food on a Campfire

Usually people use campfires to cook anything from burgers and hotdogs to roasted marshmallows. Food cooks differently over a campfire than it does in your oven at home, so it is important to make sure that you know how to safely cook.

Meats need to be cooked thoroughly or they can cause illness. When you cook over an open fire, the outside of the meat may cook more rapidly and leave the inside raw. You should not cook meat over open flames unless you have a grilled tray that is raised above the fire. Otherwise, wait until the fire is smoldering and cook over the embers.

Be sure to turn the meat to cook it evenly. If you are placing it directly on the fire, wrap it thoroughly in aluminum foil. If you use cooking utensils, they will become very hot, so have a bucket of water on hand to cool them to make sure nobody gets burned.

Final Thoughts

Although bonfires and campfires are both sources of fire, they are very different in terms of size and function. A bonfire is used in celebrations and rituals, or they are used to dispose of waste or trash. They are much larger than campfires and should always be built in open spaces far from trees, buildings, or any other flammable materials. They often require permits, and it can be illegal to burn them without one.

Campfires are usually much smaller, and they are designed to provide warmth and a means of cooking for people who are camping. They should always be built with safety in mind, and they should be fully extinguished before you leave the site. Many wildfires are the result of a campfire that was left smoldering or embers blowing and catching nearby brush on fire.

Campfires and bonfires have been around since the beginning or time as a means for cooking, warmth, light, and celebrations. They are still an integral part of life today, and they can be wonderful as long as safety is the first rule.

Author

I have a bachelor's degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies...I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.

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