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Are Bears Afraid of Fire? (Or Attracted?)

Bears do not generally like campfires but they do not scare bears away either. So if you think that setting up fire will keep the bears at bay, it won’t.

What they are actually looking for is food for their own survival. If you are cooking food over a fire, you may attract bears.

are bears afraid of fire

Do not leave a campfire lit overnight to deter bears. It may be ineffective. Making loud noise is a more effective way to let bears in the woods know that you’re there and they shouldn’t approach. If you see a bear approaching your campsite, create loud sounds, and in most cases, the bear will back off into the woods.

Even though bear attacks are quite rare and uncommon, bad situations are often unpredictable with wild animals. Large bears sometimes take their stand in an encounter instead of running away and you’ll need to know how to use bear spray to defend yourself. 

Important: This is general information for education and entertainment purposes only. Consult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.

Are Bears Attracted to Fire?

Bears don’t seem to mind campfires. They have been known to approach people sitting by campfires eating meals.

Here, it’s not the fire that’s attracting the bear, but the smell of the food cooking over the fire.

Therefore, remember not to leave food or food scraps in or around a campfire. Bears may be attracted to these smells.

Do not leave a campfire running overnight as a bear deterrent. Firstly, the fire may not necessarily deter the bear. But more importantly, an unsupervised campfire is a significant wildfire danger.

There is no sense in taking chances in the wild. Unattended campfires can be extremely dangerous.

Are Bears Attracted To Smoke?

While odors are major factors known to attract bears when you are out camping, smoke isn’t necessarily the one they seek.

The smell of smoke on its own appears to be a neutral smell to bears. However, if you are cooking over the fire, then the smoke will likely be mixed with a range of other food scents.

Bears will be attracted to the smell of food, not smoke.

They have an excellent sense of smell and will be able to locate the scent of cooking meat from a long way off.

Furthermore, smoking provides a sweet smell that may intrigue bears who may think it is associated with food.

Are Bears Attracted To Light?

A flashlight is one of those must-have items that are a practical necessity in your camping gear. But bears seem somewhat indifferent to most lights.

While a flashlight does an amazing job at spotting and may deter the bear in some cases, it doesn’t scare them away necessarily.

Generally, bears will avoid large groups of humans. Lights and noise are signs to the bear that there are humans in the area and may discourage them from approaching.

However, simply shining a flashlight at a bear won’t have the same effect as, for example, shining a flashlight at a deer (who would freeze out of fear).

Bears learn quickly that a flashlight doesn’t have any adverse effect on them. So, while light may be a sign to a bear that humans are nearby (and therefore to avoid the area), shining lights at bears isn’t effective to scare them off.

Instead, creating loud noises and ensuring there are no open food containers at your campsite are better and far more effective alternatives for a safety measure against bears.

Does a Grill Attract Bears?

Yes, grilling meat or other foods may attract bears. The smell of food may lure bears to the campsite.

Often, bears will wait until it gets quiet and you fall asleep before they enter the campsite to find food scraps.

The bear is most likely looking for food and is not there to harm you.

After using your grill, clean it thoroughly, leave no food scraps, and store it in your car, a bear box, or up a tree 200 feet away from where you’re camping.

What you Can Do

As long as you’re legally allowed to have campfires while camping, and you practice safe campfire procedures, there’s no problem having a campfire. It shouldn’t attract bears.

However, the smell of cooking food will. Therefore, once you have finished cooking, remember to:

  • Clean all cookware thoroughly
  • Collect all waste, food scraps and wastewater and store them at least 200 feet from the campsite and up a tree.
  • If you’re in a regulated campground, use your car or provided bear boxes to store food.
  • Put out your fire thoroughly to prevent wildfires.

FAQ: Do Wildfires Threaten Bears?

Countless animals living in the wild have succumbed to wildfires. Bears are no exception.

Several cases have been reported in the past of wildfires gone out of control and consuming the lives of several bears. In 2016, a fire that tore through the Laquipampa National park in Peru claimed the lives of 3 out of 35 bears in the area. It also destroyed their food sources, down to about 50 percent of the bear’s habitat left.

Furthermore, wildfires can severely displace bears from their home habitats. Female bears, in particular, have small ranges of between 2.5 To 10 square miles. If a fire rips through her range and she survives, she will have to find a new place to live, and will potentially have to find a new home range where other females do not already live.

Conclusion

Fire is kind to no one. Wildfires have been known to leave nasty impacts on wildlife for as long as one can remember. That said, bears or any other species fear fire for obvious reasons. However, campfires do not bother bears as much. And at times, it can become the cause of even attracting them, especially if there is food being cooked over the fire.

Light coming from the fire can catch a bear’s attention and let them know people are nearby, but may also attract a curious bear.

And even though bears are as fond of human encounters as humans are to be attacked by one, it’s best to be prepared for a bear encounter and handle the situation calmly. Make sure you are brushed up on facts and have been carrying the necessary tools in your camping gear while you are out in the wild.