I was asked today about lighting fires in woods when its dry. This is a legitimate concern so here's everything we do to make sure we're safe and legally compliant.
1) PERMISSION. We have the written permission of the land owner. For the woods we operate in this is the Woodland Trust. They do not allow fires on their land and can pursue those that light fires for criminal damage. We have a licence agreement which is regularly reviewed with the Trust's site manger. The licence requires agreed working practices, risk assessment, environmental impact assessment, public liability insurance and certification of competency.
2) OFF THE GROUND. Soil (especially organic loamy or peaty soil) can burn and be extremely hard to put out. We use a fire pan and in extremely sustained dry weather use a stove which is even further away from the ground. Mineral soil such as sand can be placed under the pan or other materials such as green logs if its dry. The ground is doused after the fire and if dry before too. Any sticks that fall out are placed back in the pan.
3) WATER: We bring copious amounts of water to douse the flames and surrounding ground. Fresh tap water can also be used to immediately treat a burn before applying burn gel.
4) ZONES: We zone off the fire with our hot zone triangle. You are not allowed to put bare skin in here - only if its holding a toasting stick or wearing a fire glove. Our next zone is strictly no running and deemed as the approach area to the fire.
5) CONTROL: We can control a fire in our pan by smothering it if we want it to be on hold for a while. A fire pan limits the size of the fire as does restricting the amount of fuel added. We never leave an active fire as it should be constantly managed.
6) EMERGENCY PLANNING: Forest School Practitioners have current first aid training - at our disposal we have clean tap water, sterile water, burn/hydro gel and cling film to cover and keep clean any burn. We have prepared emergency procedures which include fire. We have a fire blanket nearby and kit to smother a fire in addition to water.
7) COMPETENT: Forest School level free training includes managing and handling a fire. I also have numerous experience in handling fires including fire awareness and extinguishing training, science teacher - combustion, bunsens etc, wood burner at home. We were also lucky enough to have a pupil's father attend our forest school that happened to be a fire officer. He helped advise, experience and inform how we handle fire too.
8) PERSONAL PROTECTION: We use fire gloves, have a fire blanket, have water on hand, and first aid equipment. We ask parents to remove any costumes that children occasionally come in (such as fairy wings) as we're unsure as to their flammability.
9) LEAVE NO TRACE: The fire pan prevents ground scarring. The ash/ember soup once doused with lots of water is either spread around by hand (where we check its cold) to fertilise our favourite trees with potash or early on in the year we take it away, dry it and use it as charcoal once its dry. We scatter or take away any piles of collected fire wood we have to put off illegal fire use.
10) COMMUNICATION: We share with our customers what we do. We want people to be put off lighting illegal ill-considered fires in woodland and tell them the consequences of what can happen to them (burns, fines, imprisonment), others and the environment. When we spot ground scarring we report it to the site manager, other volunteers or friends groups and to the police. We consider what we do as best practice and share that with others and listen to any hints or tips from other parties to make what we do even safer, more efficient and better for the environment.