Fire can be extremely important for survival. It can be used for warmth and protection, boiling water for purification and cooking as examples. Building a fire sounds so simple. Pull out your lighter or matches, light a few small sticks on fire, and add more wood to get a good fire going. Sounds so simple, but in a survival situation, things may be a bit more complicated.
What if your bic lighter or matches (or even just the striker strip on the match box) got wet. No flame! Didn’t know a wet lighter won’t light? Try it. Drop it in a glass of water, take it out and shake it off and try to light it. Nothing! I dipped mine in water for a couple seconds, shook off the water, dried it off, and tried to light it. Not even a spark. Blew air on it and tried again. Nothing. 5 minutes later, blew air on it again and tried lighting, still nothing. After 10 minutes I tried again. Still no flame. Tried again after 20 minutes. Still no flame! (But my thumb was getting sore from trying so many times!) If this happened to you, would you be prepared with another method of starting a fire? (The lighter did finally start after 25 minutes of drying.)
How about if it has been raining and everything was wet. Ever tired to light wet paper, wet grass, wet leaves or wet sticks on fire? I’ve even tried pouring some “white gas ” (naptha), used for a camp stove, on the grass and small twigs to try and start a fire. (DO NOT try this with gasoline, it is highly explosive!) The gas burned off fairly quickly, but still didn’t dry out the tiny twigs and grass enough for them to burn. Result- No fire! (Fortunately, I did have a backpacking stove to boil water and cook with on this trip.)
With fire being such an important item for may survival situations, you want to make sure you have several ways to start a fire as well as some of the skills needed to get a fire started in adverse conditions.
Building a fire
3 Things Are Needed To Start a Fire: fuel, oxygen, and heat.
Fire starters (The heat)
- Ferrocerium rod & striker (flint & steel)
- Magnesium bar
- Magnifying glass/
- Batteries (steel wool, gum wrappers, aluminum foil)
- Potassium Permanganate and glycerine
- Acetone, sulfuric acid, potassium permanganate
- Sodium chlorate, sugar, sulfuric acid
- Ammonium nitrate powder, finely ground sinc powder, hydrochloric acid
- Hand drill
- Two-man friction drill
- Fire plow: Back-and-forth friction in a trough in soft wood (yucca, etc.)
- Pump fire drill
- Lighter fluid
- Camp stove fuel
Tinder (fuel that can be started with sparks)
- Dry grass, leaves, dry weeds, cattail fluff
- Dryer lint
- Cotton balls (Can be covered in petroleum jelly to make longer lasting or in damp conditions)
- Dandelion head (clock)
- Jute twine
Kindling (fuel added to burning tinder to start building a small flame into a larger fire)
- Small sticks
- Birch or cedar tree bark
- Pine needles
- Home-made fire starters
- Feather Sticks/ Fuzz Sticks: By cutting and shredding kindling type materials into thin strips or pieces, they can bet used as tinder and ignited with a spark)
Wood (long term burning)
- Start with small diameter pieces first
Building the Fire
- Clear fire zone. Clear an area several feet out from where you will build your fire of any materials that may burn. Remember to check for any overhanging branches that could also catch fire.
- Build a firewall. Putting a ring of rocks or digging a fire pit a few inches deep will help to reflect the fire’s heat as well as forming a boundary to contain your fire.
- Place some kindling loosely in the center of your fire pit. Add some tinder on top that can catch the flame or sparks you are using to light the fire. Keep the kindling and tinder loose to allow airflow (the oxygen needed) for the fire to burn. Keep more kindling handy to be able to quickly add to the fire once it gets started.
- Airflow. Once you get a small ember or flame, lightly blow on it to help it grow into a larger flame. Blowing on the embers adds more oxygen to the fire.
- Continue to add more wood to the fire, starting with smaller pieces first. These will burn quickly to create a bed of coals. Work your way up to larger (thicker) pieces of wood that will burn for a longer period of time.
There are several styles of wood arrangements you can use in building your fire, such as a tepee, a log cabin, or pyramid type of arrangement, depending on the use of your fire.
Make sure you have water (or dirt/sand) to put out your fire completely when you are finished with it to prevent it from spreading.
Windbreak. If you are in an area with high winds or wind gusts, you may need to have some type of windbreak to block the wind from blowing out your initial flame to start the fire. A windbreak may also help to control the wind to keep sparks from blowing out of the fire and starting unwanted fires.
Direction of smoke. Prior to determining the location to build your fire, know which direction the wind is blowing to help keep the smoke out of your eyes.
Avoid rock that may contain water (from creek and river beds or shores) (Steam can cause them to explode)
Douse your fire completely when finished. Even the smallest spark, if caught up by the wind, can cause a fire in an unwanted area.