The wildfires and resulting damage in Colorado and New Mexico have been horrific over the past few weeks. Over 600 homes have been destroyed, and 5 lives were lost. It is bitter irony that such a useful tool as fire can stray so far from its beneficial state and cause such havoc and loss as we have seen in recent days. (2012 Colorado fire data.)

Obviously, there are times and places where fire building is not a safe activity. There are even times when fires are illegal to light. But what happens when you get caught in a dry environment and you must have a fire? How do you keep the beast under control to boil your water, cook your food and signal for help?

Here are some techniques that can help:

• Clear the ground of flammable materials around your campfire area for at least five feet in every direction, making an overall 12 to 15 foot circle with nothing burnable inside.

• Avoid lighting fires in areas with a lot of dried grass. This is one of the most explosive forms of tinder in nature, and lighting fires next to it is begging for trouble.

• Find a place that is out of the wind to make your fire. This will limit the sparks that blow away.

• Dig a deep fire pit (2-3 feet deep), and keep the fire small.

• Use plenty of water and dirt to put the fire out when you’re done with it. These tips should help you, but in dry, windy conditions – you’d better just leave fire alone.