To build a fire, it helps to understand the basic
principles of a fire. Fuel (in a nongaseous state) does not burn directly. When
you apply heat to a fuel, it produces a gas. This gas, combined with oxygen in
the air, burns.
Understanding the concept of the fire triangle is
very important in correctly constructing and maintaining a fire. The three sides
of the triangle represent air, heat, and fuel. If you remove any
of these, the fire will go out. The correct ratio of these components is very
important for a fire to burn at its greatest capability. The only way to learn
this ratio is to practice.
You will have to decide what site and arrangement
to use. Before building a fire consider--
- The area (terrain and climate) in which you
- The materials and tools available.
- Time: how much time you have?
- Need: why you need a fire?
- Security: how close is the enemy?
Look for a dry spot that--
- Is protected from the wind.
- Is suitably placed in relation to your shelter
- Will concentrate the heat in the direction you
- Has a supply of wood or other fuel available.
(See Figure 7-4 for types of material you can use.)
If you are in a wooded or brush-covered area,
clear the brush and scrape the surface soil from the spot you have selected.
Clear a circle at least 1 meter in diameter so there is little chance of the
If time allows, construct a fire wall using logs
or rocks. This wall will help to reflector direct the heat where you want it (Figure
7-1). It will also reduce flying sparks and cut down on the amount of wind
blowing into the fire. However, you will need enough wind to keep the fire
Do not use wet or porous
rocks as they may explode when heated.
In some situations, you may find that an
underground fireplace will best meet your needs. It conceals the fire and serves
well for cooking food. To make an underground fireplace or Dakota fire hole (Figure
- Dig a hole in the ground.
- On the upwind side of this hole, poke or dig a
large connecting hole for ventilation.
- Build your fire in the hole as illustrated.
If you are in a snow-covered area, use green logs
to make a dry base for your fire (Figure 7-3). Trees with
wrist-sized trunks are easily broken in extreme cold. Cut or break several green
logs and lay them side by side on top of the snow. Add one or two more layers.
Lay the top layer of logs opposite those below it.
You need three types of materials (Figure
7-4) to build a fire--tinder, kindling, and fuel.
Tinder is dry material that ignites with little
heat--a spark starts a fire. The tinder must be absolutely dry to be sure just a
spark will ignite it. If you only have a device that generates sparks, charred
cloth will be almost essential. It holds a spark for long periods, allowing you
to put tinder on the hot area to generate a small flame. You can make charred
cloth by heating cotton cloth until it turns black, but does not burn. Once it
is black, you must keep it in an airtight container to keep it dry. Prepare this
cloth well in advance of any survival situation. Add it to your individual
Kindling is readily combustible material that you
add to the burning tinder. Again, this material should be absolutely dry to
ensure rapid burning. Kindling increases the fire's temperature so that it will
ignite less combustible material.
Fuel is less combustible material that burns
slowly and steadily once ignited.
HOW TO BUILD A
There are several methods for laying a fire, each
of which has advantages. The situation you find yourself in will determine which
fire to use.
To make this fire (Figure 7-5),
arrange the tinder and a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a tepee or cone.
Light the center. As the tepee burns, the outside logs will fall inward, feeding
the fire. This type of fire burns well even with wet wood.
To lay this fire (Figure 7-5),
push a green stick into the ground at a 30-degree angle. Point the end of the
stick in the direction of the wind. Place some tinder deep under this lean-to
stick. Lean pieces of kindling against the lean-to stick. Light the tinder. As
the kindling catches fire from the tinder, add more kindling.
To use this method (Figure 7-5),
scratch a cross about 30 centimeters in size in the ground. Dig the cross 7.5
centimeters deep. Put a large wad of tinder in the middle of the cross. Build a
kindling pyramid above the tinder. The shallow ditch allows air to sweep under
the tinder to provide a draft.
To lay this fire (Figure 7-5),
place two small logs or branches parallel on the ground. Place a solid layer of
small logs across the parallel logs. Add three or four more layers of logs or
branches, each layer smaller than and at a right angle to the layer below it.
Make a starter fire on top of the pyramid. As the starter fire burns, it will
ignite the logs below it. This gives you a fire that burns downward, requiring
no attention during the night.
There are several other ways to lay a fire that
are quite effective. Your situation and the material available in the area may
make another method more suitable.
HOW TO LIGHT A
Always light your fire from the
upwind side. Make sure to lay your tinder, kindling, and fuel so that your fire
will burn as long as you need it. Igniters provide the initial heat required to
start the tinder burning. They fall into two categories: modern methods and
Modem igniters use modem devices--items we
normally think of to start a fire.
Make sure these matches are waterproof. Also,
store them in a waterproof container along with a dependable striker pad.
Use this method (Figure 7-6)
only on bright, sunny days. The lens can come from binoculars, camera,
telescopic sights, or magnifying glasses. Angle the lens to concentrate the
sun's rays on the tinder. Hold the lens over the same spot until the tinder
begins to smolder. Gently blow or fan the tinder into flame, and apply it to the
Place a flat, dry leaf under your tinder with a
portion exposed. Place the tip of the metal match on the dry leaf, holding the
metal match in one hand and a knife in the other. Scrape your knife against the
metal match to produce sparks. The sparks will hit the tinder. When the tinder
starts to smolder, proceed as above.
Use a battery to generate a spark. Use of this
method depends on the type of battery available. Attach a wire to each terminal.
Touch the ends of the bare wires together next to the tinder so the sparks will
Often, you will have ammunition with your
equipment. If so, carefully extract the bullet from the shell casing, and use
the gunpowder as tinder. A spark will ignite the powder. Be extremely careful
when extracting the bullet from the case.
Primitive igniters are those attributed to our
Flint and Steel
The direct spark method is the easiest of the
primitive methods to use. The flint and steel method is the most reliable of the
direct spark methods. Strike a flint or other hard, sharp-edged rock edge with a
piece of carbon steel (stainless steel will not produce a good spark). This
method requires a loose-jointed wrist and practice. When a spark has caught in
the tinder, blow on it. The spark will spread and burst into flames.
The fire-plow (Figure 7-7)
is a friction method of ignition. You rub a hardwood shaft against a softer wood
base. To use this method, cut a straight groove in the base and plow the blunt
tip of the shaft up and down the groove. The plowing action of the shaft pushes
out small particles of wood fibers. Then, as you apply more pressure on each
stroke, the friction ignites the wood particles.
Bow and Drill
The technique of starting a fire with a bow and
drill (Figure 7-8) is simple, but you must exert much
effort and be persistent to produce a fire. You need the following items to use
The socket is an easily grasped stone or piece of hardwood or bone with a
slight depression in one side. Use it to hold the drill in place and to apply
The drill should be a straight, seasoned hardwood stick about 2 centimeters in
diameter and 25 centimeters long. The top end is round and the low end blunt
(to produce more friction).
Its size is up to you. A seasoned softwood board about 2.5 centimeters thick
and 10 centimeters wide is preferable. Cut a depression about 2 centimeters
from the edge on one side of the board. On the underside, make a V-shaped cut
from the edge of the board to the depression.
The bow is a resilient, green stick about 2.5 centimeters in diameter and a
string. The type of wood is not important. The bowstring can be any type of
cordage. You tie the bowstring from one end of the bow to the other, without
To use the bow and drill, first prepare the fire
lay. Then place a bundle of tinder under the V-shaped cut in the fire board.
Place one foot on the fire board. Loop the bowstring over the drill and place
the drill in the precut depression on the fire board. Place the socket, held in
one hand, on the top of the drill to hold it in position. Press down on the
drill and saw the bow back and forth to twirl the drill (Figure
7-8). Once you have established a smooth motion, apply more downward
pressure and work the bow faster. This action will grind hot black powder into
the tinder, causing a spark to catch. Blow on the tinder until it ignites.
Note: Primitive fire-building methods are
exhaustive and require practice to ensure success.
Use nonaromatic seasoned hardwood for fuel, if
Collect kindling and tinder along the trail.
Add insect repellent to the tinder.
Keep the firewood dry.
Dry damp firewood near the fire.
Bank the fire to keep the coals alive overnight.
Carry lighted punk, when possible.
Be sure the fire is out before leaving camp.
Do not select wood lying on the ground. It may
appear to be dry but generally doesn't provide enough friction.