Life Skills: Building a Fire


Whether you want to relax with friends and roast a marshmallow, cook some food while camping, or build a fire in an emergency situation, it's a handy skill to possess! It may seem like a very easy task, but for any of you who have tried, and failed, you know it can be harder than it sounds. There are various factors to consider, and several techniques that have proven to be the most effective.

Before we get into the meat of the matter, I'll give you some handy tips!

Tip #1: Wet wood does not burn! It may burn eventually, but will be very smokey, and you definitely don't want to try and start the fire with wet wood - it will not burn unless you already have a decent blaze going.

Tip #2: When starting a fire, smaller is better! By this I mean smaller wood, or kindling is necessary at the beginning. This can be split wood, or sticks and bark found on the ground.

Tip #3: Remember, fire needs oxygen! You want the fire starting materials to be close so they'll all light, but you don't want to leave the flame without access to oxygen.

Ok, next (and very important) - safety considerations. Of course, the general rule is be careful, don't touch the fire, and make sure no one falls in, but here's a couple more specific points...

Safety consideration #1: Be sure to build your fire on dirt, or surround a small grassy area in stones, to ensure that the grass does not light on fire, and spread to surrounding areas. Of course, this is especially important if the grass is dry, and not a huge worry if the grass is very wet. Better yet, if it's a backyard fire, not in a camping or emergency situation, build it in an established fire pit.

Safety consideration #2: if you are using gasoline (not recommended), or a fire starter to get your blaze going, stand back, and be careful! It can light suddenly (depending on the substance), and if too much is used, cause a little mini explosion. Watch your fingers when lighting!

**Note on fire starter: if wood is wet, you cannot just use lighter fluid to get a fire started. The fluid will just burn off, leaving you back at square one.

Safety consideration #3: When you are finished with your fire, make sure it is completely out before you leave it. Stray sparks could start a fire outside the designated fire area, and cause extensive damage to the surrounding areas.

OK, on to the actual method! I once again feel like I'm back in school, this time writing a lab report...introduction, materials, method, results, conclusion. Or something loosely reminiscent of that.

Step #1: Gather materials - newspaper (cardboard is great too; it lights easily and burns longer than paper) or other tinder such as dry bark, leaves, etc. Kindling (small wood/sticks and bark), matches, and fuel wood. Dryer lint also makes a great fire starter.

Step #2: Ensure that the area is ready as discussed above, if you are not building it in an existing fire pit.

Step #3: Place a pile of tinder in the center of the fire area, then build a teepee with kindling over top of it. As previously mentioned, leave gaps for oxygen to reach the tinder (most effective if you leave a gap on the side the wind is blowing from)!

Step #4: Once you have a good layer of kindling, form another teepee around the kindling teepee with the fuel wood.

Step #5: Place a match under the pile of tinder. It should catch, and the flames moving upwards will catch the kindling, then the fuel wood on fire. Once the teepee has burned enough that it falls over, you can just continue adding wood on top, not worrying about the shape anymore.

Don't forget to put it out when you're done! It's wise to always keep a bucket of water next to the fire in case of emergencies.

So, to recap this series so far...you can now build a fire, and boil a pot of water over it! Curious to see what you can learn next?

Coming soon to a computer screen near you.

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