How Hot Is A Campfire?
This is a story about an empty can of baked beans. How it rolled into a discussion on how hot is a campfire and melting point of bonfires. It also led me to become the office guru on campfires. This is how it unfolded. After a tumultuous hot windy night at the New South Wales Picnic Point camping grounds. I arose early at about 5 am to start the cleanup and ready our gear for departure. Coming across our campfire, what I picked up was what looked like a metal plate. What was unusual, was that it looked to be the full remains of a Heinz Can. The label was still visible, charred, it still smelled like warm baked beans. It must have rolled into the fire. The fire was hot enough to melt. Until then the thought never came across my mind about bonfire temperatures? After a quick google search, I found out that the melting point of aluminum is 1218 Degrees Fahrenheit (659° Degrees Celsius). I needed more answers.
Importance of a hot campfire.
Some argue that being able to create fire is the greatest human invention of all time. I agree with its need wholeheartedly, as I hold a cup of campfire Brewed Coffee.
Coffee needs an average temperature between 195 – 205 Degrees Fahrenheit (96° Degrees Celsius) for that perfect cup. If you make the water any hotter than you will ruin it, that would be a crime.
But fire does more than that, especially when out camping. Campfire heat keeps us warm, it brings us together. Marshmallows anyone? It allows us to cook our meals and heat liquids and even signal for an emergency. Unbeknownst to myself, campfire temperature plays a major role in each of these activities. Ever try cooking meat on a lame, poorly constructed campfire? The hotter the fire, the higher the chances of eradicating bacteria in the meat. Hotter is often better.
Realistic temperatures of a campfire.
Wood burns at what temperature?
Do not underestimate campfire temperatures. They can reach very high warmth and cause a lot of damage with even the most basic bonfires being hot enough to melt. To even get a fire started, the average bonfire temperature will need to be around 600 Degrees Fahrenheit (315 Degrees Celsius). This is the optimal wood burning point for your campfire and will be when most wood will start to accelerate. This will release gases that will burn and bring the average temperature up to over 1100 Degrees Fahrenheit (593 Degrees Celsius). Once you have burned all the vapors, you will only have ashes and charcoal left. This burns at temperatures over 2012 Degrees Fahrenheit (1100 Degrees Celsius).
When you consider that aluminum melts at temperatures of around 1215 Degrees Fahrenheit (657 Degrees Celsius), you can see how hot this is.
The hottest part of a flame.
The hottest Part of a Flame is not the red part. We tend to associate red with hot. In truth, the hottest part of the flame will be the blue or white parts, which can reach 1670 Degrees Fahrenheit (910 Degrees Celsius) more than hot enough to melt!
The coolest flames are when the fuel and the oxygen are barely reacting. In these cool flames, there is not enough heat put out.
So how do you tell roughly the temperature of a campfire? Well, it seems you can see from the color of the flame. If your campfire is a deep red color, then it is at temperatures of around 1112 Degrees Fahrenheit (600 Degrees Celsius). If the color gets to Orange/Yellow, then the average temperature has risen to 2012 Degrees Fahrenheit (1100 Degrees Celsius).
Wind will change the melting point and color of your fire. It adds more oxygen to the fire, reduces any moisture that is sitting on the surface of the wood. This makes it more flammable and it will be hot enough to melt. Beware that wind direction can change without warning and catch people by surprise. Wind can also cause sparks, and this can pose a threat.
A basic guide for optimal heat.
To make sure you build a camp fire to be proud of, you are going to need three things to burn:
Selecting the right size of wood.
When making a fire, you need to make sure you have kindling, wood no bigger in diameter than your finger. Once the fire is hot, you can gradually add more significant wood pieces to increase its temperatures. Once you get past wood the size of your arm, it becomes hard to cut with just a hatchet. But if you have brought prepared wood with you or purchased it on the way, then a few logs can make the fire last longer.
The best fuel wood to use.
What are fuel woods you should NEVER use?
- Rhododendron – Toxic smoke or fumes
- Oleander – Toxic smoke or fumes
- Poison Ivy – Can cause lung damage.
For a good baseline temperature of a campfire, the fuel wood (the wood) needs around 16% Oxygen to burn. Since air has 21%, we are on a winner, as long as the oxygen reaches the wood. If that happens and we introduce enough heat, then the tinder kindling should burn thus creating an environment for boiling/melting point.
There are many ways to construct a fire. The skill is making sure that the air can get to the type of wood, and you do this by stacking the wood in the right way.
- Start with your type of wood and place it in the center of where you are going to set your campfire.
- A tip here (and I am not joking) – If you cannot find any Tinder, Doritos or other chips burn well.
- Form a teepee shape with the kindling above the tinder. As you form, this gradually increases the diameter of the wood and will retain the inner temperature of a campfire.
- Make sure to use smaller wood you have collected, develop another teepee over the top.
- Once the fire is lit, the larger teepee will eventually collapse.
- You can then add more massive logs of wood to the fire which will allow for soaring temperatures that will be hot enough to melt.
As I write this, there have been massive wildfires in the USA and Australia. These fires produce enormous damage and cost huge figures in addition to causing anxiety to wildlife and families. The cost of the 2019 California wildfires is expected to be around $20 billion. Australia, which has also been plagued with bush fires, has a bill of $75 million so far. You should think twice about lighting a campfire during periods of dry weather, especially if there is wind.
Changes of wind direction, a fire setting a tent alight, and falling into a fire are also dangers. When planning a campfire, safety should be at the top of your priority list.
It is important not to mount campfires that are larger than you need for cooking. You should keep the fire small if you can so that if anything goes wrong, you can put it out quickly.
When extinguishing the fire, make sure do it with water. I know some people use soil, but the truth is that fire can keep smoldering under soil for up to 8 hours.
Wow, I had not imagined my love for Baked Beans would have taken me down a rabbit hole that would have so many elements. I have learned a lot from the exercise and hope that you have picked up some useful facts as well.
Curious to find out about How Long Does a Propane Tank Last? Click here to read our article.
If you find yourself a bit of a master chef, you should check out our article on some of the tastiest Campfire meals cooked in foil here.