Most of us have a clear image of what to do when putting out a fire, and this often involves water. But did you know that water isn’t always the safest or most effective way to extinguish a fire? As kids, we were all exposed to cartoons where a fire would break out and someone would run in with a bucket of water, safely putting it out. It’s likely this has caused us all to reach for water when a fire starts.
Even in cases that it is safe to use water, you might not have any to hand. While we’re all encouraged to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated, most of us are guilty of omitting this from our daily lives so even a small fire might be difficult to put out.
Thankfully, there are a few other ways to extinguish an out of control flame. In some situations, they’re preferable over water, so let’s get to know them better and give our fire safety knowledge a bit of an update.
What Types Of Fire Cannot Be Put Out With Water?
Water might seem like the obvious choice for putting out a fire but in some cases, it’s downright dangerous. In fact, if you were to use water on something like an electrical fire, this is only going to make the situation worse. Not only will it exacerbate the flames putting you at risk of burns but it could also result in an eclectic shock as water is a very good conductor.
Moreover, using water to extinguish a fire started by flammable liquids can be just as hazardous. You see, the water won’t put out the fire, it’ll only spread around it which also encourages the flammable liquid to do the same. The best way to deal with any of these types of fire is to find an appropriate fire extinguisher which will be clearly labelled with the type of fire it is designed to put out.
Of course, if you’re reading this guide, you’re probably thinking about fires that are outdoors such as fire pits and campfires. In this case, you’re probably not going to have a fire extinguisher to hand. That said, if you’re camping or in a caravan, it can be useful to have a portable fire extinguisher as part of your kit. At home, keeping one to hand when lighting your fire pit isn’t a bad idea.
Can You Use Water To Extinguish A Fire Pit?
If you don’t have a fire extinguisher then there are other ways to put out a fire, provided it’s still under control. In the event that your fire burns out of control, you should vacate the area and call the emergency services. Trying to deal with this yourself will only end in tears.
If you’ve lit your fire pit and are ready to call it a night, then you might think that reaching for a bucket of water is the best option. But what surprises a lot of people is that adding water directly to an open flame could actually cause the flames to grow. This, of course, could result in an injury.
Even if that doesn’t happen and the water successfully puts out the fire, the sudden change could result in copious amounts of steam which are just as likely to cause an injury. Essentially you are looking to starve the fire of oxygen which will ultimately put it out but water probably isn’t the best way of doing this.
Prepare Your Fire Before Putting It Out
Shortly, we will discuss some of the most appropriate ways to put out a fire without using water. But before you do any of them, it is first important to prepare the fire to be put out. This ensures that you will extinguish it as safely as possible because going in all guns blazing isn’t a very good idea.
One of the first steps to preparing your fire before putting it out is to stop feeding it. This is kind of a no brainer. Stop adding any wood or other fuel to the fire well in advance of when you want to put it out. The longer you can leave it without adding new fuel, the easier it will be to put out. Gradually, the fire will start to die down by itself so you won’t have as much work to do.
Also, if there are any logs that haven’t fully caught yet, take these off. You can save them for next time and it’ll prevent them from going up and being difficult to stop.
As I have mentioned, you need to starve the fire of oxygen if you want to put it out. While the final extinguishing will do this, you can start the process by adding some rocks to the fire which will cut off the air supply to the lower layers.
If you have completed the above steps but still find that your fire is being stubborn, you might try to destroy the structure by knocking it over. You can do this using a long stick and this should cut off a lot of the oxygen supply as there won’t be as many places for it to circulate.
Best Ways To Put Out A Fire Without Water
Now that your fire has hopefully dulled down somewhat, you are in a position where you can put it out completely. Without water to hand and knowing that this isn’t the safest method, you might want to try any of the following techniques.
Sand Or Dirt
One of the most common and effective ways to put out a fire is to use dirt or sand. You will need to make sure that the materials are dry and it’s safer and more convenient to use a shovel to pile on the dirt or sand.
You will need to use this method once the fire has fizzled down to the embers as before this, it won’t be as effective. Once the sand or dirt has been applied, you will then need to use a stick to mix the sand into the cinders ensuring that the fire is completely out.
I particularly like this method for metal fire pits as it helps make them more long lasting so you will be able to continue using them year after year. What’s more, if you would typically use a garden hose but find it doesn’t reach, or are now better aware of the danger of this, sand and dirt is an excellent alternative.
A snuffer is probably the simplest way of putting out a fire without water since it is simply a cover or lid that goes over the fire, cutting off the oxygen supply. If you are using a fire pit then it may come with a snuffer which is convenient but if yours doesn’t, it’s just as easy to buy one online or even fashion one of your own. Just make sure that you choose one that is compatible with the size of your fire pit and will fully cover it.
If you’re going to go for this method, it’s important to be aware that it is best suited to wood fuelled fire pits with an enclosed burning space. If there are any cut outs, these will allow oxygen to circulate and the snuffer will essentially be rendered useless.
Burying The Embers
Once your fire has burnt down to the embers, one of the safest ways to extinguish it without water is to bury the embers. While you will need to wait for the fire to burn down, you can prepare yourself while you wait by digging a hole. Some people even choose to do this before they’ve even started the fire.
For this method, you will need to consider where you are as there are some campsites that do not allow this so it’s worth finding out beforehand. But if you can, then I’d recommend digging a hole that is no less than six inches deep. Once you’re ready, you can then use a shovel or stick to push the embers into the hole before covering it with dirt.
The reason that this is so safe is that there will be a total lack of oxygen to the fire and with all that dirt on top, there’s no risk of it flaring up again. Although you should be careful if there is any wind that could dislodge the soil. The best way to avoid this is to make sure that you properly compact the dirt before leaving it.
Smothering The Fire
If it isn’t possible to use any of the methods we have already looked at then all is not lost. You could smother the fire by spreading the coals out. You will need to make sure that you distribute them evenly as not doing so could cause hot spots that might easily reignite. If there is ample space between the coals, they will cool off much more quickly.
I will be honest, this isn’t the fastest method and it is much more work but it is effective if you have no other way of extinguishing the fire. What’s good about it is that it’s much easier to tell if you have been successful in putting out the fire as the colour of the coals will give everything away. If they’re no longer red, they won’t cause a problem.
Also keep in mind that this could take a couple of hours to die down so you could speed up the process by adding a little dirt if there is some available. Because it can take so long, it is worth starting the process well in advance of leaving the area so that you don’t leave any potential hazards behind.
Can’t I Just Leave My Fire To Go Out By Itself?
You will find that most campsites have rules about fires. In some cases, you cannot have them at all whereas other times, you are not allowed to leave embers in a fire pit. Of course, you may be wild camping, spending time in your garden or having a fire anywhere else but no matter where you are, it is always best to be safe.
The best thing is to make sure that your embers are put out before you leave the fire as this will ensure that there is no chance of a fire reigniting. If you’re camping, then just imagine the devastation should a fire ignite, get out of control and even catch your tent. It simply isn’t worth it.
While you may think that it is just more work to put your fire out, that’s far more preferable than the alternative. If you are camping, make sure that you situate the tent as far away from the fire as possible. In the event that you do mistakenly leave it still burning and any embers escape, there’s less chance of the tent being affected.
For home fire pits, especially those made from metal, it is amazing how long the embers stay hot for. It can take hours; even all night, for them to properly extinguish and if left unattended, they could cause damage to your patio, lawn or other parts of your garden. Using a fire screen can prevent embers from flying off although we would still recommend putting out the fire completely.
Are There Any Disadvantages To Putting Out A Fire Without Water?
Using water for some types of fire is the most convenient way of getting rid of the flames and there’s no denying this. Trying to put out a fire without water is markedly safer but as with anything, there are downsides to this.
For example, the time it takes to put out the fire is a lot longer so you will have more work to do before you head inside for the night. Not only this but it can be a much more trying task to put out a fire entirely without water.
Moreover, even once the embers have gone out, the fire pit may remain hot to the touch which could be a hazard, especially for anyone coming to the site after the fact.
A fire is a great way to create a warm, inviting atmosphere outdoors and what’s more, you can use it for cooking. But when you’re done, it’s important to put the fire out. Many people would opt for water and while this is OK in some cases, it can be dangerous. Sometimes, you may not have any water so you need to know alternative ways of extinguishing the fire to ensure safety.