I depend on downed softwood in the Sierra Nevada high country to build my campfires. To me, it’s a waste of precious dollars to haul oak firewood or charcoal briquettes to the campground. Instead, I rely on the natural resources of the forest.
I’ve learned that to be successful with softwood you must pay constant attention to your Dutch oven. Pine, fir and cedar burn quickly. As a result, you need to watch your oven and replenish the coals often.
I don’t focus oven temperature when camping. I just pile hot coals from the campfire onto the oven with a gloved hand and a pair of 14-inch tongs. I use experience and the five senses to approximate the correct number of coals.
I usually build a campfire that’s four to five times the volume of the camp oven and burn it down to a glowing bed of coals. You can accomplish this in approximately 30 minutes with pine, fir and cedar.
I've learned from many poorly cooked dishes that you can never have too many campfire coals. To make sure I finish the dish with sufficient heat, I continue to feed the campfire even after I’ve heated the oven. I keep feeding the fire as long as I have a plentiful supply of firewood.