By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Campfire treats can be enjoyed even when the campsite is just in the backyard. S'mores and hot dogs can be easily prepared with a simple, small cooking fire in a corner of your yard. And kids can help take part in the fun by cooking their own servings.
Before lighting a fire in the backyard, Dale Brooks, fire marshal for the Joplin Fire Department, would like you to do some measuring for safety's sake.
He'd also like you to make a phone call.
"Every day we evaluate the weather, humidity and wind, and decide whether it can be a burn day or not," Brooks said. "That information is available at our central station."
Homeowners within Joplin city limits can call 417-623-0403 or visit joplinmo.org to find out whether burning is allowed.
Burning is usually allowed within a container, whether that's a grill, fire pit or other enclosure that prevents the spread of flames. Brooks said such containers should be at least 15 feet away from any structure and away from power lines.
If the fire is on open ground, then that minimum safe distance increases to 50 feet, Brooks said. In both cases, people building a fire also need to have a way to tear it down.
"Make sure you have some sort of extinguishing system," Brooks said. "A bucket of water, an extinguisher, a hose, something in case the fire starts creeping."
Brooks said an open fire must be attended at all times. But if it's a small cooking fire, no permit is necessary.
Once the fire is going, it's time for treats -- from hot dogs to s'mores.
S'mores are an outdoor standby because of their simplicity to prepare and their delicious flavor. All it takes are jumbo marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers.
In a nutshell: Half a chocolate bar is placed on half of a graham cracker. A marshmallow is heated until melty, then placed on the chocolate. The other half of the graham cracker turns the whole mess into a delicious, sugary sandwich.
Becky Ledbetter, with Girl Scouts of Missouri Heartland, has made plenty of s'mores. She said the secret to a perfect s'more is getting the marshmallow out of the fire and onto the chocolate quickly.
"Whether you like it burnt or puffed up, make it how you like it," Ledbetter said. "Squish it all together as fast as you can so that the chocolate melts with the marshmallow."
Kids can easily toast their own marshmallows, Ledbetter said. But they should be shown how to be careful around the fire in order to prevent burns.
If kids are using a stick, then they need to stand back far enough from the fire, she said. If anything metal is being used, however, they need to take the extra step of being extra careful -- a metal wire will get much hotter than a piece of wood.
"It's nice to have a longer stick," Ledbetter said. "Have kids make sure the marshmallow is not on fire anymore. And get it on there as quick as you can.
"Kids need to be real careful if they are using a metal roaster."
Ledbetter and others with the Girl Scouts have tried all sorts of campfire creations, from using icing to different kinds of cookies. Cookies with a surface covered in fudge or icing work well with a marshmallow between them, Ledbetter said. During Girl Scout Cookie season, Thanks-A-Lot cookies -- shortbread with fudge on the bottom -- are used.