Building a campfire seems like a natural way to enjoy the wilderness. And campfires are cozy and delightfully primitive. However, they can be potentially damaging or dangerous.

What impact can campfires have on the environment?

Campfires can get out of control. Man-made forest fires and wildfires do enormous amounts of environmental damage each year. And these types of fires are entirely preventable.

When a fire rages out of control, animal and plant life are lost. Entire habitats are destroyed. While nature did account for some natural fires to occur (and in fact, some plants and animals thrive in burned areas), man-made fires can occur in areas not intended by nature to experience burning.

Also, campfires produce carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas implicated in global warming. Large bonfires are particular culprits.

To make sure your campfire efforts do not result in environmental damage, here are some things to consider.

1. Choose your campfire site wisely. Make sure there is no low-hanging vegetation over your chosen site. Look among the nearby trees and on the ground for birds’ nests.

2. If there is a fire pit at the campsite where you are, use it. It’s far better to make use of a prepared fire pit than make your own.

3. Keep your fire under control. This means not building a fire on dry, windy days. It also means keeping a bucket of water and a shovel handy before you even begin. Surround your fire pit with large stones and make sure there is no vegetation in the fire pit.

4. Use dead wood that you gather from the ground to build and feed your fire. Do not cut or break branches and limbs. Using dry, light wood to feed your fire can increase the potential for the fire to get out of control. Use small, light twigs for kindling and tinder, and feed the fire with logs of denser wood, such as ash, oak or hickory.

Avoid burning evergreen boughs or logs. Pine, fir and spruce are full of flammable sap that increases your chances of an out-of-control fire. They are also harder to extinguish. Evergreen twigs and pinecones are okay to use as tinder or kindling, however.

5. Extinguish your fire thoroughly. Pour water on the fire and stir it with a shovel. Break up any charred pieces and scrape burning wood to expose smoldering areas. Keep pouring on water until there is no more “sizzle” sound. If you have to bury your fire with dirt rather than using water, you still need to stir the fire thoroughly and make sure there are no more smoldering or smoking pieces.

If you take a few simple precautions and responsibilities, you can enjoy building campfires and sitting around them without worry.