The ability to produce and maintain fire at will can be
a lifesaver. An easy task when matches, lighter and dry kindling are available
fire-lighting can be one of the most frustrating tasks facing the outdoorsman
without. The only sure-fire way to be able to start a blaze every time is to
practise the techniques listed here.
many uses, it can be used to provide warmth and comfort, to cook food, as
a sterilising agent and to send signals, it can also be dangerous in the extreme,
fire can destroy all living things and vast areas of flora.
GUARD AGAINST ALL RISK
OF FIRE SPREADING !
The Fire Triangle:-
To create fire you need 3 things, Heat, Fuel and Air
- the "Fire Triangle". In order to keep a fire burning for any useful length
of time you must have these three elements in the correct ratios. The only
way to learn these ratios is through experience.
Selecting a site & fire type:-
Before you build your fire certain factors will have to be considered;
- What is your location ? Climate and terrain affect
the kind of fire you will have to build.
- What materials are available ?
- Time, how quickly do you need a fire ?
Look for a "fireplace" that is dry and protected from wind, it should be close
to any shelter or bivvi that you are using but not so close as to present
a hazard. Try to arrange the fire so that it projects heat in the direction
you require, if this is not possible you may need to build a 'reflector'.
Ensure adequate fuel is available in the immediate area. Clear the immediate
area around your fire of any vegetation, out to about one meter, this reduces
the risk of the fire spreading. If time and materials allow construct a "wall"
around your fire using rocks, these can be arranged to reflect the heat in
the direction you require, as cooking instruments and as a secondary source
of heat. BEWARE damp porous rock can explode when heated. In certain situations
it may be necessary to build a covert fire, one that cannot be seen. One of
the best examples of this is the
Dakota Fire Hole, it's a complex fire and will require much practise
to get right.
- Dig a hole, for your fire.
- Upwind of this hole, dig another for ventilation.
- Refer to illustration for details.
DAKOTA FIRE HOLE
In snowy or flooded conditions it may be necessary to raise the fire above
ground level, this can be accomplished by using large loosely spaced rocks
or green logs.
You require three separate kinds of material to build a fire tinder, kindling
Tinder :- Ideally tinder will burn with the addition of just
a spark, in practise it can be a little more difficult. Good tinder will always
be dry, in rainy conditions it can be almost impossible to find any, so it pays
to prepare some in advance if you are planning a backwood journey. If you do
find yourself looking for suitable tinder in a downpour there are a few possible
sources, look on the underside of dead wood, you may find 'punk', wood decomposed
almost to a powder, this makes fair tinder. Another source not to be over looked
is your navel, really, ever wonder where that fluff comes from ? Don't.......
use it to light your fire !
Assuming damp tinder is all you can find there are several expedient drying
methods you can attempt. Use your body heat, place damp tinder in a pocket while
on the move, the heat you generate may dry it, alternatively try rubbing it
hard against absorbent clothing friction will dry it out. With soft wood tinder
or fungi try gently stripping off an outer layer the centre may still be dry.
If you have time to search for or prepare tinder here are some suggestions :-
Dead Bracken; Excellent ! Dries easily and is widely available. Bracken
is amongst the best tinder for friction firelighting. Birch & Cherry Bark;
Burns hot, not the easiest to actually get going but provides a long lasting
flame once lit. Clematis; Fluffy seed down provides an instant flame
from sparks, the 'bark' can be buffed to produce a superior tinder. Honeysuckle;
It's bark is naturally shedding and very thin, collect and dry. Ignites by friction.
Various Fungi; Many fungi, particularly those which grow on trees can
be dried to produce excellent tinder. Cedar Bark; When peeled and buffed is
excellent. Char cloth; Cotton or silk scorched black, is superb and was
once in common use.
Kindling :- Is material, which while not as readily ignited
as tinder will burn easily with the application of a flame (your ignited tinder),
dry twigs from the thickness of matchsticks up to about the diameter of a pencil
are useful kindling. Starting with the finest, gradually add thicker twigs as
the fire becomes hotter, once the pencil thickness type are burning readily
you can start to add your main fuel.
Fuel :- Is less combustible than both tinder and kindling,
it requires the steady application of considerable heat to ignite but once burning
will do so slowly, releasing a lot of heat and light.
You may need instant warmth, if you clothing has become wet in very cold conditions
for instance, in this situation it is essential to get a good fire going quickly.
Use the most expedient method available to you as you have no time for refinement.
Once your situation has stabilised you can think about better positioning, fire
Types Of Fire
- Tepee - The traditional "camp-fire" arrange in a cone shape
and light at centre. Easy. Works well with damp wood.
- Lean-To - Place a green stick into the ground at approx.
30 degrees, pointing into wind. Place your tinder far back under this stick
and add fine kindling lean-to fashion along the sides. Ignite your tinder
and as the kindling catches add more, thicker kindling.
- Cross-Ditch - Scrape a cross about 30cm across and 7cm
deep into the ground, place your tinder in the centre and build a pyramid
of kindling over the top. The cross provides a good draft regardless of wind
- Pyramid - A long burning fire requiring little attention
to keep alight, useful through the night. Lay to logs parallel on the ground,
bridge these with smaller logs, follow up with another layer, smaller and
at right angles to the last. Build up several layers until you have a flat
surface of wood a bit thicker than your thumb. Either light a starter fire
on this or carry burning fuel from your cooking fire. This fire will burn
TYPES OF FIRE
There are many methods, some easy some not so...
Matches & Cigarette Lighters:
Easiest of all, carrying several
disposable butane lighters is always a good idea, as they will light even
when wet, don't throw away empty ones as the flint invariably last longer
than the gas providing a ready source of sparks. The 'Zippo' style petrol
lighters are popular as they have a degree of wind proofing and can, with
care be made to run on a variety of different expedient fuels. You can never
have enough matches, ideally you should have the weatherproof, strike anywhere
"Lifeboat Matches" in a waterproof container. Less satisfactory, although
better than nothing are standard 'strike anywhere' matches with the head and
at least half of the stick sealed in melted candle wax. Carry in a 35mm film
Convex 'burning' Lens:
Useful on bright, sunny days, a convex
lens from spectacles, binoculars, camera, weapon sights etc. can be used to
concentrate the suns rays onto dry tinder. Hold the lens over the same spot
until the tinder smoulders, then fan by blowing gently.
Magnesium Starter, Metal Match;
Place the metal match on
your tinder and strike smartly with either the striker provided or a knife
blade. Once the sparks start tinder smouldering, fan. The magnesium starter
is the same but with the added benefit of easy-lighting hot burning magnesium
chips to get things going!
If you have batteries you can create sparks by
attaching a wire to each terminal and touching the bare ends together close
to your tinder.
Remove the bullet head or, with a shotgun cartridge
pry open the end and remove the load, add powder to kindling it will ignite
with a spark. Alternatively add only half the powder to the tinder, stuff
a small piece of cloth cut from clothing into the cartridge, chamber the round
and fire at your tinder, the cloth will ignite the mix. Exercise extreme caution
with both methods.
Certain chemicals can be used to cause spontaneous
combustion. Be very careful about use of these methods.
Potassium Chlorate & Sugar 3:1 by volume - Fierce burning, can
be ignited by a few drops of sulphuric acid. Potassium Chlorate is found
in some throat tablets, Sulphuric Acid is present in car batteries.
Potassium Permanganate & Sugar 9:1 by volume - Less sensitive than
the above it's safer to use ! Ignites with a few drops of glycerine. Potassium
Permanganate is a very useful chemical often supplied in pre-packed survival
kits, as well as firestarting it is a disinfectant, anti-fungal agent,
can be used in small quantities to purify water and even makes a good
snow marker. Get some for your kit ! Glycerine is present in automotive
Sodium Chlorate & Sugar 9:1 by volume - VERY SENSITIVE, ignites
by percussion. Sodium Chlorate is present in many weedkillers.
Flint & Steel : Commercial versions with a processed
flint and carbon steel striker are available, in the field use a sharp
edged piece of flint or other hard rock strike with a knife, (carbon steel
blades produce the best spark, stainless is poor). Once again direct the
spark onto your tinder and fan once it begins to smoulder. This is a tricky
method to master.
Fire - Plough: A primitive but effective system, utilising
a hardwood 'rod' and a base of softer wood. Cut a straight groove along
the base, it may help to carve a small notch at one end. Plough the blunt
tip of the rod back and forth along this groove, as friction builds up
small wood fibres will become detached from the groove, steadily apply
greater pressure, as the friction builds higher the detached fibres will
start smouldering and form a "coal" use this to ignite your tinder.
Bow & Drill: The most well known "primitive" firelighter,
it is tricky to use and requires much effort and practise for it to be
You'll need - A Socket, a piece of hardwood or rock with
a depression in it, either natural or carved to hold the drill and apply
A Drill, seasoned hardwood, straight and about 20cm long,
the top should be rounded to reduce friction, the bottom blunted to maximise
A Hearth, preferably of the same wood as the drill, about
30cm long, 40mm wide and 20mm thick. Carve a shallow depression about
2cm from the edge of the hearth, drill it manually until the depression
is black, rounded and fits the drill piece. Carve a wedge shaped notch
from the edge of the board to the centre of the depression.
A Bow, light and strong, of ant resilient wood, cordage
can be of any kind although nylon is excellent if available. adjust tension
In Use: Kneel with your foot on the hearth, ensure your
knee does not foul the bow, brace the hand you hold the socket in against
your shin. Bow on the outside of the drill. Drill smoothly, maintaining
even pressure until smoke rises from the hearth, as smoke begins, increase
pressure and speed. Smoke should increase, the notch will begin to fill
with fine, dark powder. Once the notch is almost full of powder, stop
drilling. Carefully transfer this powder to a thick leaf or piece of bark,
fan gently with your hand until it begins to glow, transfer this "coal"
to your tinder, continue to fan, but harder, blow onto the tinder pile.
With luck it will catch!!
The woods I suggest for drill & hearth : Lime, Sycamore, Willow, Birch,
Alder or Hazel. The woods for the Bow and Socket are less important but
should be hard and green to minimise friction.
This method is tricky and tiring, but once you have mastered it you can
light fire almost anywhere and in any conditions. It's worth the practise.
Carry as many strike anywhere matches/cigarette
lighters as you can
Select and dry tinder in advance where possible,
collect as you travel.
Keep firewood dry.
Dry damp wood near the fire.
Bank up fires to keep them in at night.
Ensure fire is totally dead before leaving
Guard against risk of fire spreading.
Practise primitive techniques BEFORE
you need them.
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