How would I describe lighting a campfire before it becomes a campfire? Saying "I set a campfire on fire" just sounds very odd, and I've been trying to reword that to make sense. I've tried "I set a camp on fire" but that sounds off (obviously), and "I set a bunch of sticks on fire" which provides no context to what the bundle of sticks were used for.

In any case, how can I best describe lighting a fire for a campfire that hasn't become a campfire yet?

EDIT: As Illmari Karonen points out:

Basically, you seem to be looking for a word that means "unlit campfire" or "pile of wood that will become a campfire once you light it". Alas, I don't think English really has a natural word or phrase for such a concept

  • 3
    technically, when you light a campfire, you don't set large pieces of wood on fire. You light some kindling or paper on fire, which then lights the larger stuff. Anyway, I would go with "I started a fire in the campfire ring" or "I lit a fire in the campfire ring" if you are obliged to use the word fire in addition to the word campfire. Or "a campfire is the friendliest kind of fire of all." Lots of choices. May 3, 2014 at 19:12
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    One does the same thing with campfires as one does with candles.
    – tchrist
    May 3, 2014 at 20:29
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    "I set a camp on fire" would imply that you started burning tents and things. May 3, 2014 at 20:38
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    Basically, you seem to be looking for a word that means "unlit campfire" or "pile of wood that will become a campfire once you light it". Alas, I don't think English really has a natural word or phrase for such a concept. May 4, 2014 at 0:50
  • 3
    You used the answer in the first sentence of your question! ;)
    – Will
    May 5, 2014 at 4:01

9 Answers 9


If you want it in that form, try "I set a campfire alight".

"I lit a campfire" would be more usual, but typically encompasses the entire cultural act (collecting wood, finding a suitable place, tending the fire until it is established, that it is somehow "your" fire, and so on) rather than just the act of setting alight.

So, for example:

"After a long day of hard work, he lit a campfire and made a refreshing cup of tea"


"High on amphetamine sulphate, he rampaged through the scout camp, felling flagpoles and setting campfires alight."

  • This answer makes more sense to me, in the context I was looking for
    – yuritsuki
    May 3, 2014 at 20:15
  • I dont know what methamphetamine sulphate is but that is a funny description. +1
    – PW Kad
    May 3, 2014 at 22:04
  • I'd recommend acidifying your methamphetamine base with hydrochloric acid because it is volatile and any excess will evaporate rather than leave a highly acidic residue.
    – Nick T
    May 5, 2014 at 0:52

You can also "start a campfire."

According to a police report, he started the campfire on Wednesday night and stayed up all night sitting around it.

He started the campfire and she got the coffee pot ready.


To light a campfire may be a way to express what you want to say.

  • If I had to use the word fire though in the sentence, like I set a x on fire, how would I word it then
    – yuritsuki
    May 3, 2014 at 19:04
  • I set some pieces of wood on fire, I'd say.
    – user66974
    May 3, 2014 at 19:10
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    @DISREGARDMODSACQUIREREP "I lit a campfire." May 3, 2014 at 19:12

"I ignited the campfire" means precisely that -- no additional implication of collecting firewood, stacking kindling etc.


You can "kindle a fire" a phrase which can even be found in some version of the bible. It's little bit archaic, but I've heard it used.

Note the relationship to the word "kindling" for small easily burnable stuff (just one step up from "tinder".

  • 1
    And I thought the kindle was paperless ... :) May 4, 2014 at 21:05
  • @HagenvonEitzn I'm pretty sure it is paperless, and just killing trees anyway. Jun 11, 2014 at 20:34

lit a campfire, or light a campfire, or started a campfire, or had a campfire or made a campfire


Your question, whatever you may have thought, isn't really about the verb (light or set on fire) that should be used so much as the noun (what a campfire is before it is lit). And the answer to that is - a campfire.

What distinguishes a fire from a pile of wood is not that one is burning, it is that one has been set up so that it will burn when a match is applied. So if I have laid a fire in the grate, it will remain there (and remain a fire) until I light it, and then until it burns out.

So certainly ?set a campfire on fire sounds so odd that no native speaker would ever use it (preferring, as many others have said, light a fire); but it makes sense and is not ungrammatical.


Being of sound mind but of no particular authority on the subject, I offer the following argument and opinion:

I suspect the nature of your question is related to the common use of the term "campfire" to describe the assemblage of a pile of wood, arranged intentionally for the purpose of encouraging fire to grow and advance within the confines of the assembled pile. While I too consider it convenient to apply the word campfire to the unlit pile of wood, such conveniences are inaccurate.

The word campfire is defined as "an outdoor (or open air) fire in a camp." The etymology indicates the origin is, simply "camp" + "fire." Using this definition as a basis, I would argue that the unlit tinder, kindling, sticks and logs assembled into a proper form for establishing a camp fire are not a campfire, they are a "framework" or a "build" or, less formally, a "set" from the concept of putting something together with other things. Until the fire is applied to the "build" you do not have a campfire.

The definition as found in the dictionary includes the concept of how the fire is used to differentiate a campfire from some other fire that might exist. Cooking on, and/or congregating around the campfire are conditions which give clarification to what constitutes a campfire. If the term "campfire" is used to name the build of burnable materials, before fire is applied, how would cooking be done, and who would be interested in congregating around the unlit build?

Therefore, it would be illogical to "set fire to a campfire," or "light a campfire," because, in order for it to be a "campfire" it must be burning already.

What is needed to address the dilemma you cite above is a unique, comfortable term to identify an assembly of logs and starter materials, set up for the purpose of establishing a contained fire, in a camp. At present, no such word seems to exist. In it's absence, we are left with cumbersome constructs that are far from elegant or romantic.

"I set fire to the campfire build" may be as accurate as it gets, but I think I would just say, "I started the campfire." and leave the reader to develop whatever conclusions they will from the context of the story.

I don't want to even think about the term "Bonfire" right now.


just to cover all the bases, if you have built the campfire but not lit it yet, you have 'laid the fire' or if you are going to do it you will 'lay the fire'....it will be lit at some other time, but it is ready for action!

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