2. Gather your fuel.
If you are allowed to gather firewood on-site, collect a variety of sizes of dry wood. Under no circumstances should you remove bark or branches from living trees.
Your fire ignition source can consist of a variety of materials—cardboard, newspaper, dry grass or straw, wood shavings, paper napkins, even Cheetos—but whatever you use must be very dry. Pile that fire-starter material in a mound at the center of the firepit. Then, beginning with the smallest twigs or pieces of wood and progressively working your way to larger ones, build your wood pile until it’s about a foot high, leaving plenty of airspace. (Fires need oxygen to burn.)
You can also make things easy by building your wood pile around a homemade or store-bought fire starter. This is a quick way to get your fire going, even in light rain, because it’ll transfer the flame to wood that you stack atop it.
3. Ignite your campfire.
To light your fire, Heather Wicksted, an outdoor-travel blogger who runs Reason2Roam.com, advises placing two handfuls of kindling on top of your fire starter with room for air to flow (it may look like a small bird’s nest).
Next, light your pile and add small pieces of kindling on top one at a time without moving the lit pieces around. “Continue to add the kindling until you’re certain that it’s burning,” Wicksted says. “Patience is key. Keep adding slightly larger pieces of wood, making sure that air can always get at the fire and the coals. Blow gently on the coals as you progress.”
4. Maintain your flame.
Keep your additional fuel nearby and continue to stoke the fire, as needed, ensuring that air can get in to sustain the flames. You may want to add smaller pieces of wood under the larger pieces. You can blow on or fan your fire to feed it more oxygen.
5. Put out your fire.
Ideally, your fire will burn down to white ash. Whether it does or doesn’t, it’s crucial to make sure that it’s completely extinguished, which means cold to the touch. To get it that way, pour lots of water over what’s left of your fire. After you’ve thoroughly doused it, very carefully test it for remaining hot spots.
As Wilson points out, “If you don't have access to plenty of water to put it out, don't start it in the first place.” It’s possible to douse a full fire if need be, but if you’re going to do that, as opposed to drowning a flame that’s nearly out, stand well out of the way of the resulting smoke.