There is no doubt about the greatest advance since mankind started hunting with spears, clubs and wearing animal skins… is the ability to harness the power of fire. In a survival situation, being able to get a fire going can mean the difference between life and death. With a fire you can boil water for drinking or cooking, provide heat, and even signal for help. The heat and light provided by a fire while alone at night in the middle of nowhere, can provide a sense of security and comfort. Fire can also serve as a weapon to drive off predatory animals.
It can be extremely difficult to get a fire to ignite and burn. This can be even more difficult if you are forced to use wet wood while shivering from the howling cold night air and trying to light a match with cold wet stiff fingers. It can be life threatening if you are not prepared and do not have the proper necessities and knowledge. Most people aren’t prepared to start a fire without the use of matches, lighters and traditional “tinder” (like paper).
1. Preparing Your Materials
Fires must have fuel or “tinder” which helps start the fire. Most people have more tinder than they realize. Different types of tinder can be found many places. You can use the lint from your pockets or tear small pieces of clothing and fray them so they burn easier. Small scraps of paper, Q-tips cotton ends, the fluff from wool clothing are all great options as fire-starters. Other types of tinder that most people don’t think about are: alcohol prep pads, Carmex, chap-stick, deodorant stick, hand sanitizer, insect repellent, Neosporin, petroleum jelly and even snack chips. Any of the items mentioned above can be used as tinder to get the fire started.
2. Building Your Fire Ring
Keeping your fire lit can be a challenge of its own. When trying to start a fire try to have the following items on hand: plenty of small twigs, bark, or any other type of flammable material you can procure. After gathering fuel for the fire, place the tinder on an area of ground that you have cleared as best you can. Next, surround the burn area with a nonflammable ring (barrier) made of rocks or an equivalent alternative (cinder blocks, bricks, scrap metal, etc.). Creating this barrier accomplishes at least three significant advantages in building and maintaining a fire:
First, it keeps the fire contained.
Second, the barrier becomes heated by the fire and retains this heat for a significant duration of time depending on what materials you are using. This material can then be placed around you to keep warm, heat up water (possibly even boil water which can help provide safer drinking alternatives for hydration), or even heat up and cook food.
Third, it protects the fire from being snuffed out by a gust of wind. You will find that when you’re struggling to make a fire or keep it lit, it’s a game of margins. The smallest breeze can derail a lot of hard work and deplete your resources quickly. Keep in mind that you will need to make sure to make the barrier open (wide) enough to let the fire breathe (fire needs oxygen) while keeping any significant breeze out.
3. Putting It All Together
After taking the above steps and procuring all the needed materials, place the tinder in the center of the ring and place the twigs and small amounts of fuel on the tinder. Do not bury the tinder. Leave the fuel laying loose or placed in a sort of tee-pee above the tinder. Next, ignite the tinder with your fire starter (matches, a fire starter, flint or a lighter_. Place more fuel on the fire as it grows. A fire will consume large amounts of fuel very quickly. Make sure you have plenty stacked up nearby so you are not trying to find more in the darkness or if your fire is about to go out.
If all you have is damp wood, place the wood around the rock circle and let the heat from the fire dry it out. The more fuel, the bigger and hotter the fire will grow. Consider how long you will need to keep the fire lit to make it through the night, through your meal or to simply heat yourself up. It is important to keep the fire going enough to accomplish what you need to do, but not to waste fuel by building a fire larger than what is necessary.
Another consideration to take into when deciding how much fuel to use and how big to build your fire is: whether you are trying to maintain a low profile (not attract unwanted attention) or whether you are trying to attract as much attention as possible (i.e. effect a rescue by signaling help). Hopefully you will never find yourself in a desperate life or death situation where the odds are stacked against you and a fire is the only thing standing between you and survival, but if you are I hope you will remember this article (or others like it) and be able to do what’s necessary to stay alive and thrive!
by Paul Howe