2011-07-19

Survival Guide: How to build a fire

Having provided instructions in finding water and having presented basic wilderness first-aid information, I think it's now safe(r) to discuss some methods of building and starting a fire in the wilderness.

As with building a shelter, one of the most important decisions in building a fire is choosing its location.
- Pick a location at least somewhat protected from the weather (wind, rain, etc.).
- Try to pick a location near -- not next-to -- a good supply of fuel for your fire.
- Clear away any debris next-to the spot where you will build your fire.
Once you have chosen a suitable location, it's time to gather the necessary materials for building your fire.
STEP 1: Gather tinder. This is small, light, and dry material which can easily ignite. (e.g. dry leaves, dead pine needles, paper, bark shavings, cotton cloth, etc.)
STEP 2: Gather kindling. Slightly larger than tinder, kindling is fuel which take a bit more heat to ignite. (e.g. thick bark, small twigs, etc.)
STEP 3: Gather medium fuel. For example, sticks which are at least the width of two fingers. You'll only need about an armful.
STEP 4: Gather heavy fuel. One or two thigh-sized log sections would do.
STEP 5: Arrange your fuel by size near your fire's location: tinder, kindling, medium, heavy.
Once you have gathered all of your materials, you can begin building a fire. There are many ways to build a fire, I am going to provide you with only one: the pit tepee.

BUILDING A PIT TEPEE FIRE
STEP 1: Scoop out a shallow pit in the center of your well-chosen location.
STEP 2: Gently lay some tinder in the center of the pit. Fluff it up to make air space.
STEP 3: Carefully place kindling on and around your tinder. Be sure to leave an "door" open downwind (away from the wind) through which you can access the tinder.
STEP 4: Lean medium fuel in a cone-shaped "tepee" over the kindling. Still keep that "door" open.
STEP 5: Ignite the tinder through the open door. (I'll go over that next.) The tinder will light the kindling, which will light the medium fuel.
STEP 6: Add one piece of heavy fuel to the fire. Be careful not to put out the fire when you do.
STEP 7: Add more medium fuel as needed to start the heavy fuel burning.
STEP 8: Repeat steps 6 and 7 as necessary to keep the fire going.
Keeping the fire going is one thing, lighting it is the more difficult task. I kept it simple in step 5 above "Ignite the tinder", but it would be best to present you with a few options in how to actually start a fire.
- Pack matches or a lighter in a sealed plastic bag, preferably kept on you at all times.
- Strike flint and steel to create a spark to ignite tinder.
- Use friction methods to create enough heat to ignite tinder. For example, the "plow" (detailed below) or "bow and drill" (described here [NatureSkills]) methods.
- Create a hot-spot on tinder using glass (especially lens) with the sun.
PLOW FIRESTARTER
This is my favorite way to start a fire. I can "feel" the energy building into making the flame.
STEP 1: Split a groove part way into a stick about three fingers wide.
STEP 2: Place tinder at the open end of the groove.
STEP 3: Rub the tip of another smaller stick up and down the groove. The rubbing creates heat through friction. Small particles of wood will ignite with the friction.
STEP 4: The stick will push the particles into the tinder causing a small glow and some smoke.
STEP 5: Gently blow on your the tinder until you get a flame.

Fire can be used to provide warmth, cook food, boil water, signal for help, and so much more. Treat this versatile tool with the respect it deserves.
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