It is a skill that we all want to master. A skill that has applications in the backyard as well as the backcountry. This skill is building a fire. While it may seem a simple task on the surface, the ability to build a good campfire without burning down the forest in the process can be a lifesaving skill. Now understand, I am not talking about buying some wood from the quicky mart and dousing it with lighter fluid until it bursts into flames. I am talking about building a campfire from scratch.
The purpose of a campfire can range from just a relaxing experience to staying warm when things have gone bad. You can cook everything on it from marshmallows to trapped rabbits. Your first task is to find an appropriate place and build a fire ring. Try to find a flat area away from other flammable materials. Also, look up as a fire started near a flammable overhang can create a danger. Now, search the area for rocks that can be used to build a circle. This will serve two purposes. One is to keep your wood contained in the pit and to give us radiant heat from the rocks after they have been exposed to the fire.
With the ring complete, it is time to start looking for wood. We are going to need three things for our fire.
Tinder: This includes small twigs, dry leaves, needles, or forest duff.
Kindling: This consists of small sticks, typically less than one inch around.
Firewood: This is any larger piece of wood and is the heart of our campfire.
You will need to forage for these. The best sources are dead trees and the debris around them. Try to avoid anything larger than your forearm, to begin with. Once you have a fire rolling you can then add larger pieces. Keep in mind that we are building a campfire and not a bonfire. If you can’t find dry wood, you can make some by using a knife to scrape off any wet bark off until you hit dry wood underneath.
Now we want to put it together. Start with your tinder and kindling to build a bird’s nest in the center of the pit. On top of that, we want to build a teepee over our bird’s nest with the kindling. This will give us an easy burning start that ignites our thicker wood. On a side note, it is always ideal to keep an emergency survival kit. While listing the contents would take up the rest of this article, it is a good idea to have fire starting material. The number one thing in any emergency kit should be either weatherproof matches or a small magnesium fire starter. With one of these two items in hand, we can look at makeshift fuels we can use to build a good fire.
One of the best homemade fuels is made from simple household products, the homemade mini fire log. To make it we need an empty toilet paper roll, lint from the dryer, non-dairy coffee creamer, and newspaper. Lay the lint out on some newspaper and sprinkle some of the dry coffee creamer onto it. It may surprise you to know that this dry creamer is very flammable and a great help in starting fires. Now stuff the lint firmly into the toilet paper roll and wrap the outer portions of the tube with newspaper. The best thing to do is to store these in zip-lock-type bags to keep them dry.
When they are needed, simply fold out a small section of the newspaper and light it with a match or fire starter. While it will only burn about a minute or two, it can be more than enough to ignite the small twigs or other wood you are using as the base of your fire.
Now it’s time to light it up. Light the tinder with whatever you have. After lighting the tinder, blow lightly at the base of the fire to provide oxygen, which will help increase the intensity of the flame and further ignite the wood. Once our tender is burning well, the kindling will catch fire and you will have a decent fire going. Now is the time to add a large piece of dry wood to the fire. Simply lay it across the top in the middle of the fire. Once that piece catches fire well, you can then add a couple more until you reach the fire size you need.
You will need to tend the fire and as it burns move embers to the center to burn them completely. Ideally, you should reduce them to white ash. With a good wood supply on hand, you can keep the fire going indefinitely. Once you are done with your fire, you need to extinguish it. Even if you may think your fire is completely out or can burn itself out, wind can come up and reignite the embers and make the fire start up again. As a safety precaution, drown the campfire with water or dirt once you are finished. Stir the fire’s remains to uncover any hot embers and throw on more water or dirt.
Starting and managing a campfire is a skill that transcends modern times. People have been building them for tens of thousands of years. Do not let the comfort of modern society lull you into thinking you will never need this skill.