How Hot Are the Coals in a Wood Fire?

Would you believe me if I told you that the embers in a campfire can burn at upwards of 2.000 degrees Fahrenheit? You don't? Well, then you should read on, friend!

The fire you spent so long to craft is now non-existent in front of you, and all that’s left are coals and ash. Have you ever stared at the campfire in this state and asked yourself, “How hot are coals in a wood fire?” No? Oh, well we guess this post isn’t going to be of any use to you.

Nah, we’re only messing around. Even if you haven’t had that particular thought at the campfire, you’ve clearly come here today to try and get an answer to that very question that was just presented.

Now, as many of you are well aware, the average campfire can get pretty darn hot. There may even be times when the embers get as hot as the fire was that created them. But, we know, what you’re looking for is a number. Well, believe it or not, that number is kind of hard to find.

How hot are coals in a wood fire?

Image credits: Unsplash

Alright, so here’s what you do. After a fire is complete, pick up an ember and see how hot it is. Okay, we’re just fooling around. However, as you’ll learn later, people actually do walk on hot coals. Again, though, more on that in a second.

Here’s the reality of the situation. Embers can burn at upward of 2.000 degrees Fahrenheit. That number seems utterly absurd and ridiculous, but it’s not as if being near the embers at this temperature is going to melt your skin off or anything.

As a matter of fact, it only takes a short distance to temper the heat that’s created from them. We guess it’s kind of like standing next to a campfire as even though it’ll be hot enough to easily scold you, it’s not as if you’re going to get burned just by sitting next to the fire.

Another aspect about hot coals is they don’t conduct heat very well, but they can burn you if you want them to.

Putting out your fire is very important

How hot are coals in a wood fire? Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to say they are hot enough to flare up after the fire is over if you leave them unattended overnight. Gray and whitish coals can retain their heat for hours and hours even after the campfire has ended.

Though you may think there’s no shot in the world of something bad happening when all that’s left is embers and ash in your campfire, things can start to flare up if the wind starts gusting, and that’s just one example. A fire can be rekindled if you’re not careful, and it simply isn’t wise to leave an open fire unattended.

In fact, the National Park Service notes that if your campfire is too hot to touch that it needs to be extinguished before you go to sleep or even leave the fire. Here’s the good news, doing so is not a tricky task and doesn’t require an hour process or anything like that.

  • For starters, be sure to spread out the hot coals as best you can. Whether with a stick or a pitchfork (or anything else you want to use), just do your best to spread out the coals.
  • With that out of the way, the easiest way to extinguish the hot coals left in the fire is to douse them with some water. Whether from a hose, a water bottle, or whatever, this method is probably the best.
  • If no water is available to you, for whatever reason, you can also use dirt or sand. However, there’s something important to keep in mind with this method. You want to avoid simply kicking dirt or sand on your fire as this can actually help to insulate the coals to keep them hot for even longer. While spreading out the coals, continually stir dirt amongst the coals.

Okay, but why can people literally walk on hot coals?

Image credits: Inc. Magazine

Alright, so if the answer to the question, “How hot are coals in a wood fire,” is upward of 2.000 degrees Fahrenheit, then why is it that there’s this thing called the ancient ritual of firewalking? Also, how is it then possible that people can walk on hot coals without any pain or burning?

It just doesn’t make any sense, right? After all, if you decided to stand on the coals of your fire, you’d get burned and most likely very badly. We thought this was something very intriguing to look at.

A very important distinction to make is the fact that firewalking usually works without burning or pain. However, it has to be performed correctly. Very easily, you can attempt firewalking and wind-up needing treatment for foot burns. There’s an art to it, in other words, and some of the most important factors are,

  • The coals can’t be too hot: If firewalking occurs with coals that are hotter than 1.000 degrees Fahrenheit and you don’t let them cool down enough, it should be avoided.
  • The coals need to be flat: The reason the coals need to create a flat surface is that you’re looking to avoid digging into the pile and scooping up the embers.
  • The walking speed: The goal is to prevent your feet from making contact long enough with the embers to burn them. After all, coal doesn’t conduct heat well. However, this doesn’t mean you can just run on coals as the extra pressure your feet create could end up pushing you deeper into the embers. So, the idea is to walk in a fluent motion where each step ensures that your feet make contact with the hot coals no more than half a second at a time. Going too slow can be just as problematic as running.

Final thoughts

So, how hot are coals in a wood fire? They can get as hot as 2.000 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, at the same time, with proper planning and performance, you can actually walk on hot coals of up to around 1.000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Of course, can we just say that performing firewalking can result in serious consequences and undeniable pain? Also, remember that leaving those hot coals in your fire overnight without extinguishing them can result in a fire being rekindled.

Well, that’s pretty much it for us. Have a good one, everyone.

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Tyler Jones

Tyler is much like a swiss knife. Even though he has a degree in Computer Science, he knows almost everything there is to know about camping. He has been writing for HeadlessNomad since 2021 and has contributed with over 100 articles. If you have an outdoor-related question, then Tyler much likely knows the answer.