One of the most important aspect of the human existence is the discovery and usage of fire. Likely, we wouldn’t have survived without it. You see the primordial instinct that most of us have when we congregate near a fireplace or campfire. The flames mesmerize us, and destresses us.
In a survival situation, or when camping out, fire is important for a variety of reasons. If you are lost in the woods, fire is necessary for warmth, boiling and purifying water, smudging insects away, and keeping bears honest. Also, search and rescue frequently employs “FLIR” infrared heat seeking equipment, and searchers up in a helicopter can detect a campfire easily, resulting in a successful search outcome.
Fire requires 3 components, and there’s 3 steps to a good toasty fire. You need oxygen, fuel, and ignition, for a basic fire in any situation. You also require tinder, kindling, and fuel wood. Tinder is the finest of materials, such as birch bark, pine needles, dried grasses, cattail fluff, dried red oak leaves, or any fine material that’s dry. Kindling is small dried evergreen twigs, especially spruce twigs or pine. Fuel wood is thumb sized or larger. If you put some birch bark inside of a bundle of spruce twigs, we call it a fire bomb. Additionally, you can take a stick, and use a knife to get shavings, or make a fuzz stick.
For flame, burn softwoods like pine or spruce. For coals and heat, burn hardwoods like red oak, sugar maple, beech, and ironwood.
Burning wood in half or sticking one end of a log into the fire, is the traditional way to keep a fire going, and avoid wasting time and calories cutting up wood supplies.
A smokey fire keeps the bugs down. Utilize punky rotting wood, large chunks of moss, and large tree fungus to obtain copious amounts of smoke that will drive mosquitoes and black flies away.
Designs of fire are many, but my favourites are the teepee fire, and the log cabin designs. Both are excellent for establishing a fire, or keeping a fire going. For a survival shelter, a long fire works efficiently and allows you to feed long sticks and logs into the fire.
Keeping a fire going is always a challenge aspect, so I recommend having various tenders, kindling, and larger wood supplies at the ready. In a survival situation, I would never leave a fire go out.
Methods of starting a fire include the following favourites:
-waterproof strike anywhere matches dipped in wax or nail polish
-Stormproof brand matches that will light in extreme wet and windy conditions
-Strike force or Light My Fire brand flint ferro rod spark strikers
-magnesium metal match
-batteries and steel wool
-store bought fuel cubes
-make your own fuel cubes!
-maxipads, diapers, and pet urine pads are very flammable
-potato and tortilla chips are very flammable
Flint sticks will work even when soaking wet, and give you hundreds of fires. Magnesium shavings produce flame up to six thousand degrees.Take some cotton balls and soak in petroleum jelly, and you have cheap fuel cubes. Or use dryer lint and wax. Also, hand sanitizer is extremely flammable. For steel wool, buy extra or superfine, and connect two Double A or Triple A batteries, or use one nine volt battery to start a fire.
Fire safety if crucial. Several recent forest fires were started by careless use or neglect of campfires. Avoid leaving a fire unattended. If there’s a ban on open fires, or if the danger is “extreme”, then no fires for any reason. When putting a fire out, douse a circle around the fire, and feel around with bare hands to see if you missed a coal. I normally use a large garbage bag filled with water to make sure that the fire is out. Also, build the campfire on a rock base, or dig down to a sandy or mineral soil for a base. Never build a fire on the forest or grassy floor. There are real dangers for a root fire, glass fire, or forest fire. The huge Fort MacMurray Forest fire was apparently caused by an out of control fire.
Many Forest and grass fires are caused by careless smokers. It’s illegal to walk in the forest with a lit cigarette, or to toss a cigarette onto the ground, which incidentally also environmentally wrong. A recent grass fire (Niagara on the Lake) caused 1.5 million worth of vehicles to go up in flames. Some Forest fires are caused by barbecues getting out of control, and lawn mower overheating over dry grass. Just remember that if you start a forest fire through negligence, you will be liable for all costs and damages.
If you’re a no trace camper, you can bring a fire pad along, eg. thick tin foil, to leave zero fire scars in the wilderness.
-use a pine knot full of resin to light a fast fire.
-standing wood is better than wood on the ground.
-Ironwood is the best for a Woodstove in winter.
-old burned charred stumps from a forest fire burn fast with quick flames.
-pine and spruce sap is extremely flammable and useful when starting a fire in wet conditions.
-peel the bark (rain coat) off of branches and wood, if everything is soaked.
-after a storm, normally one side of a tree has dry branches.
-avoid poplar, it’s filled with water, and very little wood fibre.
-avoid cedar since it sparks furiously!
-to reflect a fire into a shelter, nothing beats a large rock or outcrop.
-you can use a solar blanket to reflect a fire.
-some tarpaulins, eg a MEC tarp, is fire coated and fire resistant
-most tents are fire resistant treated
-never go barefoot or wear clogs or sandals near a fire or camp stove. (very common injuries such as tipping a pot of boiling water over an exposed foot)
-many retailers carry wood burning camp stoves, such as the Kelly Kettle and the Biolite that actually produces electricity!
Remember, where there’s fire, there’s smoke, and never carry steel wool and batteries in the same bag. Camping and campfires go together. Enjoy cooking marshmallows, smores and bannock over your campfire, but do it safely.