Having the knowledge of making a fire in the wild is an important survival skill. It is a priceless source of heat, light and you can equally use it for water purification, warm the shelter, cook food and drive away animals and insects. Fire not only saves life, it can help you to recuperate from hypothermia.
Wet climatic conditions provide a challenging environment to survival fire starting. Perfecting the skills to make a fire in the wet climates gives you the edge to be able to make one anywhere you find yourself. In every place, especially in the dry regions, it is important to learn how to prevent wildfire. You do not want to find yourself in the middle burning forest.
There are various steps in the making of fire. This includes preparation, site selection, burning, materials, safety and and actual fire starting. However, do not make it too complicated. Of course you should practice ways to start a fire.
Before initiating a fire, ensure you are in a place where it is safe to start a fire. You should be aware of fire risks caused by strong wind or dry weather etc conditions. Make sure that making fire is permitted and following safety rules should be a priority. However, it’s certain than in a real survival situation, no one is going to care about regulations etc. So, use your common sense as always.
Preparing the pit
The first thing to do is the spot the good place for a fire pit and also prepare the nearby area. If possible, find the place that is not directly exposed to wind. Fireplace should be at least 15 feet away from your gear and tent. Definitely you don’t want wake up in the burning tent or find that your bug out bag or clothes are burning.
The area should not have grass debris or plants and should be surrounded by a ring of rocks, when possible. If in a drier area, you should make a clearing about 19 feet diameter around the site. Get rid of every burnables nearby. You should avoid underground roots and above tree limbs that may catch fire.
In places that have no existing rings, what you simply need to do is to dig a pit and surround it with rocks or sand etc. Of course, if there’s no time or energy to prepare a fire pit, you can start a fire just on the ground. You can also utilize environment when possible. For example natural rock formations, or potholes etc. might offer already perfect place to start a fire.
You’ll need a technique to start a fire. If you have the experience you can start a fire for example using steel and flint or a magnifying glass or use a friction to start a fire like hand drill or bow drill. Potassium permanganate can also be used as a fire starter almost in any weather conditions.
However, it is good idea to make sure that your bug out bag includes matches, lighters and magnifying glass. Those will ensure that you will be able to start the fire easily. Make sure that you have also good survival knife or saw, so you can split wood. Unfortunately matches and gas lighters don’t last forever, so make sure to be familiar also with other fire starting methods.
Use tinder to get kindles burning
This is a highly inflammable item. It is required to catch fire very fast and also keep the flame for long enough that other materials begin burning. It is good idea to have a dry tinder bundle in your bug out bag or in the survival kit.
You can make homemade tinder using pieces of jute twine. Just loosen short pieces and fluff them together. You may also use cotton balls and dryer lint.
If you don’t have tinder at your bug out bag or you run out of it, you can always use of dead and dry plants, shredded dried leaves, the inner parts of back fibers, moss and grass. If you can find a cut western cedar tree, black cotton tree or the inner back of a tree losing its back, you can make excellent tinder. You can just peel it off or use a knife to scrape the inner back fibers with a sharp stone or knife.
Use kindles light up firewood
You will need small kindling that ignites easily. When tinder catches fire, it will still require catching on a larger kindling that is equally a small enough to start burning. Very thin and dry twigs will enhance the flame spread. The lower parts of conifer trees most times have dying branches that are very brittle and thin. Break some off to see if they are suitable. Bending branches are still too green to easily catch fire, try find branches that snaps, those will burn well.
The small kindling will catch fire very well but will also burn out faster. You will need thicker kindling that can be used to sustain sufficient flame and generate enough heat to light fuel-wood. Branches between 1/8 to 1/3 inches diameter are good for used as larger kindling. In dry locations, you may be able to gather them from the ground. In the Northwest where it is wet, you may require pulling some sticks from dried or dead trees. You may even cut some from the dried logs using a survival knife or hatchet. Very large wood shavings and small pieces of cardboards will also do the job. Since kindling ignites easily, they can be used to sustain sufficient flame and heat to light other fuel materials.
It is good to have extra kindling and tinder just in case that the fire goes out.
Perfect fuel-wood is between 1 to 5 inches in diameter. As smaller woods burn fast, larger ones will feed the fire longer. Wood that is aged, brittle and dry will burn more easily. For green leaves, it will take a much longer time and those will also generate more smoke.
While hardwoods will take much longer time to catch fire, they would, however, take much longer time to burn out than the softwoods. To start a fire, softwoods are preferred and better but hardwoods will keep the fire sustained and burning
The cone-shaped evergreen trees, i.e. conifer softwoods, produce softer woods. They tend to burn hotter and faster and often give a cracking and pop sound because they possess more resins. Some examples of conifer softwoods are pines, Douglas fir, cedars, spruces, and Hemlocks.
Hardwoods don’t start burning easily but when they do, they take much longer to burn. Some examples of hardwoods are Maple, oak, Mahogany, Beeches, Hickory, ashes and black Locust.
During the wet periods, you should avoid materials from live trees because they are very hard to get burning. You will find the best material from dying and dead wood that is still standing. Cut trees may have good branches that are dry. Wood is usually brittle. Sticks and branches should break easily. If possible you should protect collected fuel-wood from absorbing moisture either from the ground or directly from the rain. You can keep it in a plastic bag, use a spare jacket as a cover or keep fuel-wood within the shelter.
Gather a large hip of fuel-wood and kindling, and start constructing your fireplace before attempting to light it. If you are a group, you should work as a team. That means some to collect things together while others build and make the fire. You may equally have turns to tend the fire once you’ve started it.
There are several campfire designs, such as lean-to, the log cabin and the cross. If you have a wet ground, put some kindling at the bottom of the pit to raise the fire from the ground a little. Create some mound of thin and whispies in the center of the fire pit. Make a little opening in the side between the piles as a location of the tinder bundle when you lit the fire. Ensure that the tipi is made strong and well balanced enough to withstand wind. Start by adding some small fuel and larger kindling around the tipi and keep the little opening easy to access.
With this done your fire can be lit. If you intend using lighter or match, you may place the tinder bundle in the opening and then get it lit while you block the wind. If you are applying friction fire, get closer to the tipi and put the lit tinder bunch into the tipi opening as soon as the tinder bundle flames. Fire requires air flow. Allow the flame to grow by blowing it with some air. Begin growing the tipi with more fuel and kindling slowly and avoid putting materials directly right at the top.
Watch video: How to Build a Campfire : Arranging Wood for a Campfire
Tending the Fire
Fire requires tending. Don’t leave a fire unattended to because it may either die out or spread beyond control. When you have a good fire burning, have some wood close by but not too close to it. You may try wetter wood but it should be monitored so it doesn’t burn prematurely. You may then add pieces of larger wood types as you go along. For groups, you may choose turns to tend the fire. If you need to keep the fire throughout the night, you’ll require a large amount of fuel-wood, and someone to take care of the fire.
Attitude is what may make the difference in the failure or success of fire making. In a survival situation, the process of fire making can be stressful. Having a clear mind is important as always. Stay focused on your task to get fire started. A challenging situation can humble even the expert in extreme conditions. Therefore training is important. Gaining knowledge by practicing in different conditions will give you confidence and skills to get fire started the best possible way in what ever situation.
Almost every year, wildfires are caused by campfires in unapproved locations either from campfires not well extinguished or from the wind carried embers. While practicing survival fire starting, make sure that you will do it safe way.
Be very careful when making fires nearby survival shelter or tent. Shelters and tents could catch fire very easily.
Keep safety always on your mind:
- Have a bucket of water nearby
- Make fire only as big as you can manage
- Ensure pets and children are supervised
- Don’t leave your campfire unattended
- Allow the wood to totally burn to ashes.
- Extinguish fires completely using water. Pour in water until there is no more the hissing sound.
- If water is not available you could also use sand.
Practice tips for perfecting your fire making skills
- Start by practicing making fire with favorable conditions and in safe place.
- After the above step is perfected, take another step further by:
- Using a single match to make a fire
- Starting a fire in just five minutes
- Making fire in moist conditions
- Train on how a fire is started with bow drill, magnifying glass and friction without any tools or fire starters available.
With all these ways to start a fire in mind, you are ready to go out to practice. Remember to make sure every time that fire gets doused with water completely before you leave.
Now you should be armed with fire making skills in the wilderness. That’s essential survival skill that everyone should have.