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Bear Grylls on the Right Ways to Extinguish a Fire

Bear Grylls has lit enough fires in the wilderness to know exactly how to put one out—and what to do if a fire gets out of hand.

How to fully put out a campfire

Even if your campfire was small, if it’s not properly extinguished, it could lead to a potentially hazardous forest fire. When you put it out, you need to do more than just put water or sand over it.

“I guarantee that if that’s all you do, I could come along the next day, dig down a little, find a glowing ember and turn it into fire with my breath,” says Bear in How to Stay Alive. “And if my breath can do it, so can the wind.”

When you put the fire out, the next step is to break it apart. “Get your foot in there, kick it around a bit like you see cowboys doing in the movies,” says Bear. Then add more water and sand on it. Make sure that there are no parts of the ash that are still burning. “If water is limited, pee on it,” says Bear.

When in doubt, smother it out

Image by Teemu Tretjakov

Fire needs three things to burn: fuel, heat, and oxygen. “If you remove any of these three, you’ll kill the fire,” says Bear.

If the fire is a simple combustible fire, water will remove heat from the triangle. But you should never use water on flammable liquids, electrical fires or cooking oil fires. The best call if you don’t know what is fueling the fire is to smother it. Extinguish a frying fat fire by placing a lid or a damp cloth over the pan. 

What to do if a person catches fire

The same “smother” rule applies if a person’s clothing or hair catches fire. 

“When this happens, you have to move fast,” says Bear. “You won’t have time to fetch water, so you need to smother the flames.” You can do this by rolling the person around on the ground, covering them in sand or mud, or smothering them with a blanket or towel—a wet one is best, but a dry one will do, in a pinch.

If some part of you is on fire, follow the instructions given to schoolchildren: Stop, Drop and Roll. Stop where you are; drop to the ground and cover your face with your hands; and roll until the flames are out.

If someone’s clothes have caught fire, the skin could be badly burned, so don’t try to remove any clothing that is stuck to the skin. Apply cool (but not cold) compresses until you can seek help.

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