By Keith Fisher
Dinner was delicious, the dishes are done, and the Dutch ovens are put away. The sun has set and twilight is coming on. The kids settle down to sit in front of . . . what? Burning charcoal briquettes on a raised metal table is one thing, but you can’t light a fire here, in the middle of this parking lot.
A few years ago, when I began to see ads for portable fireplaces, I laughed. I couldn’t imagine anyone finding a campsite in the wilderness, pitching a tent, and lighting a fire in a fold out fireplace. It reminded me of something I’d seen Goofy do in an old Disney cartoon.
I forgot about the idea until about seven years ago when I parked my camp trailer in the parking lot at the Davis County Fairgrounds. We’d come for the Dutch Oven Convention. The potluck dinner had just ended. We gathered in our lawn chairs to swap stories and enjoy the company. My friend pulled out his homemade portable fire pit.
I watched him build a fire and enjoyed the warmth and fascination, while camping in a parking lot. I was sold on the idea, and I begged my friend to let me borrow it the following year. I brought out the marshmallows and the kids had a wonderful time too.
Since then, I’ve seen many types and sizes of portable fireplaces for sale--limited only to your imagination. A word of caution, however, it’s hard to pack a clay Chiminea in the back of your truck but, it's also hard for a large group to stand around a Volcano stove.
Perhaps you should think about a barrel half. A twenty-gallon steel drum may be a little large, but a ten-gallon seems to be just right. Make sure you know what you’re doing, or find someone who does, then cut the barrel in half the long way, and lay it on its side. Now, you don’t want to scorch the grass or melt the asphalt below it, so fashion legs to the bottom. Also I recommend some kind of cover or screen, something you can contain the fire with, so the forest doesn’t burn down when you’ve gone to bed.
I think you’d be surprised how many uses you can find for your new portable fireplace. It gives a whole new meaning to leave no trace camping. I love to haul mine out on the driveway, and invite the neighborhood to come and roast marshmallows or hot dogs.
Another note of caution: Check with your forest ranger before trying to use one in a fire restricted area. It is safer than an open pit, but it’s still a fire and you don’t want men with fire extinguishers invading your campsite.
I can’t leave this subject without mentioning my old friend, propane. There are many kinds of propane fireplaces on the market. Although you may not want to spend all night in front of one, they can be a quick source of marshmallow roasting fun, even when it’s too hot to burn a fire. Have your s'mores, then just turn it off. Go to bed or watch the stars. No smoke, no ashes, no fuss.
Good luck, and remember, campfire songs don’t count as church hymns and you might discover things about your family and friends you never would have sitting in front of the TV in your motor home.
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