Campfire & Bonfire Saftey, Ceremonial Fire, and Fire Spinning Safety

This information was gathered for wilderness community gatherings in Santa Barbara, California,
but applies with modification to camping, cermonies, sweat lodges, etc. just about anywhere

A ceremonial fire, sage smudges, candles, fire spinning, smoking...all these things are great. However, in our region at least, any of these could spark a calamitous wildfire. It is vital to accurately discern the actual fire danger and respond appropriately. This is trickier than it seems at first blush...

On November 12th, 2009, we celebrated the full moon in the Santa Barbara mountains. By consensus, we did not have a ceremonial fire that night. Another group of full moon revelers several canyons over did make a fire, which they said they put out. The late afternoon of the next day, high winds apparently revived the embers, blew a spark into dry brush. The ensuing wildfire resulted in the evacuation of 15,000 people, sent two people into intensive care for months, burned 2000 acres and 210 houses worth $300 million. It took over 2000 firefighters and almost $4,000,000 to put it out. This was a medium-sized fire for our area.

If you start a wildfire through negligence, you are financially responsible for the suppression costs, and criminally responsible for any deaths.


Behind the free, anarchic, celebratory atmosphere of our circles is an (invisible to most) substructure of education of co-celebrants to reign in potentially dangerous behaviors, negotiations with neighbors and authorities, and a multitude of fire safety measures. The integrity of this substructure is key to establishing strong, quality, sustainable and ongoing celebrations.


Measures to address the political, legal, and practical sides of the fire issue all interconnect and support each other; we'll consider each in turn—


Practical Fire Safety Measures

  • Mind the community fire —
  • Legal considerations

    It is now (Fall 2009) illegal to light a fire in the Los Padres National Forest outside of designated areas, with a penalty of $5000 and up to six months in jail. Elsewhere in Santa Barbara county it is also illegal.



    Political considerations

    In populated areas, the ability to meet around a fire and drum loudly all night will depend not only on finding a place where few people are disturbed, but also on carefully cultivating a reputation for responsibility. If the gatherings are reckless and inconsiderate, you can count on having the book thrown at you, whereas if the gatherings are respectful and careful accommodation from others is much more likely. To win over the hearts of people and organizations that might otherwise set themselves against you, try going way overboard on the practical side of fire safety.


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