April 5th, 2011
Fire is essential. You can make food and water safe, get warm, signal, and more, all with fire.
Have you seen those guys on the “survival situation” shows making fire by rubbing wood together? I’m not talking about that. Can you make a fire at all? In your gear you’ll have matches, lighters, and/or fire steels but now, at home, with every resource you could need available, can you make a fire?
A treatise on the subject is warranted but is well beyond the scope of this article so here are some basics to get you started.
If it’s not dry it won’t light
In the equipment section we’ll discuss some exceptions to this but in every case the drier it is the better it will work. A way to get around fuel being wet is to split the wood and get the dry inside to burn. It’s also possible to get a fire going that is hot enough to dry wet wood so it will then burn but that’s not where you want to start.
Gently grow your fire
You want to start with small stuff and as the fire grows add progressively larger pieces. There are three basic types of fuel.
- Fire Wood (small and large)
Before you start your fire be sure that you have a good supply of each category on hand and ready to use. You should have quite a bit more than you think you need to get the fire started and use more than you think you need when you start.
You need a balance of three things to sustain a fire.
If your fuel is stacked too close together there will not be enough air to burn the fuel.
If your fuel is spread out too far apart there will not be enough heat to keep the fire burning. Pulling the fire apart is a good way to put out a fire that you want to start again.
If the fuel is too big for the size of the fire then it will not get hot enough to catch fire.
Tinder is the smallest, driest, fluffiest, most flammable material. It should catch a spark or small flame and create a large enough fire to light the kindling.
Kindling is the intermediate fuel that will get your fire wood lit. I usually split the kindling from a piece of fire wood but pine cones, small dry twigs and branches can work well too. In a more urban area cardboard (corrugated and single thickness) can serve as lighter kindling.
Fire wood is what you feed the fire to keep it going. When starting the fire use the smaller, split pieces with the split face towards the flames and when these smaller pieces have caught well on fire move up to the big stuff.
There are many different types of wood and they all burn differently. In general the harder the wood, the harder it is to get it to catch fire but the longer it burns. Oak is a good example of a hard, long burning wood. Softer woods catch fire more easily but burn faster so you are feeding the fire more often and use more wood to keep it lit. Cedar is a great wood to make tinder and kindling out of. An un-split section of wood will tend to burn longer than a split piece of the same material.
Make a point of building a fire at least once a year to stay familiar with it and if making a fire is seeming easy, start doing it in worse weather (high winds, rain, cold, snow). The worse the weather is, the more likely it is you’ll need a fire.