Fire Starting

Learning how to make a fire is another essential skill to possess, just as shelter building is.

Fire is always considered important between the experts in survival, even if they do not always agree in the order of priority.

The fire triangle (left) shows us that Oxygen (air), Heat, and Fuel are required for a chain reaction to take place which will in turn give us fire.

To look at the elements of the Fire Triangle separately:

Oxygen/Air: This is the final element required in the fire triangle for fire to be created.

Heat: This is the source of ignition. There is a myriad of fire starting devices available to the public, and I'll list a few here below.

1. Matches in a Match Safe (strike anywhere, regular, waterproof and safety matches that act as small torches)

2. Butane Lighter (They may be fussy in cold weather)

3. Ember produced by fire by friction methods.

4. Magnifying Lens such as a Fresnel Lens Magnifier (sort of magnifying glass that is credit card shaped, to start a fire using the sun)

5. Firesteel (efficient modern method), and Flint and Steel (less efficient, less modern method).

6. Ember produced by percussion method such as a fire piston.

7. Magnesium with ferrocerium rod.

8. Steal Wool (fine wool) and a battery. Better success with 3 V. Two AA's will work. The electrical current will heat up the wire which in turn can be used to ignite your tinder.

9. And any other method of ignition, such as sparks other than a firesteel, chemical such as Potassium Permanganate with sugar etc.

Fuel: (In the order indicated below): Starting from very small and fine particles and materials, working your way up through slightly larger materials about the size of a pencil to thumb size, then to small logs to larger logs depending on the size and type of fire desired.

1. Tinder

2. Kindling

3. Fuel

There is also a myriad of commercially available tinder that can be used to get your fire going, and I'll list a few here below.

1. Fire paste.

2. Wet Fire Tinder by Ultimate Survival Technologies

3. Mia Dust.

Other things that can be used to start a fire, and there are many others.

1. Cotton, particularly with petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline or other brands work well also) burns very well and makes an excellent tinder that you can prepare at home. Lip balm also works, just be certain it is petroleum based.

2. Char Cloth

3. First Aid items that are flammeable.

4. Resinous wood such as pines.

5. Cedar bark scraped to make a tinder bundle which later can receive a spark from a flint and steel. Make your tinder bundle with other fine materials that will take a spark such as birch bark and dry grasses.

6. Birk bark which contains a flammable oil. It'll work even when wet.

7. Tinder Fungus (Daldinia concentrica)

8. Fuel and oil from a wreckage. Empty oil from the sump onto the ground in extremely cold temperatures before it congeals.

The image to the left is called a Fire Tetrahedron and is another example to show us the chain reaction needed to create fire. Without any of the three elements in the triangle, the fire will not light, or will go out if already lit.

You need to know how to make a fire in any conditions, at any time with both modern and primitive methods. However, don't worry too much here. Go for the modern, as I have mentioned elsewhere on this site, and use primitive, or in other words non modern techniques as a backup.

While going about doing chores, always collect some dry tinder and protect it. Always protect a portion of your firewood from rain so that you can have dry wood to get a fire going after a rainfall. A burning fire can be protected from a downpour by putting a lot of wood on it. Indians used 'punky' wood which is rotten logs and placed it on the fire to prevent the rain from putting it out. When you remove the logs, there will be coals left to get another fire going.

Be wise when it comes to using your limited supply of matches in an emergency. If you can use a Fresnel Lens Magnifier or other as part of your effort to create a fire, use that instead in order to preserve your matches until they are absolutely needed. Use a small tea candle which you should have in a wilderness survival kit as well as in some other kits while on the subject, to help you to start a stubborn fire. A match burns only so long, but a candle will stay lit and burn the tinder to ignition if conditions are right.

Please REMEMBER to practice fire safety at all times. DO NOT light fires on peaty ground, and always put out your fires COMPLETELY with water.

If there hasn't been any rainfall for awhile, if everything looks dry with plenty of leaves and/or other combustible materials like pine cones or other small tinder sized things, DON'T RISK making a fire and use a camp stove instead.

Obey any fire bans in place if you are hiking. If you are in a survival situation make your best judgment call, but be careful!
Have a look at this video of what happens when a fire hasn't been properly tended to. The fire will smolder underground and spread, damaging the environment.
Making a fire on top of peaty ground or even making a fire in a small depression you dug, can ignite the materials and cause an underground fire that can smolder for weeks and travel underground over great distances. You might not even notice that anything has gone wrong, but yet days or weeks later a fire can surface and burn the forest.

This is why there are fire bans at times in place. For the sake of the environment and the animals in the forest that is their home, please use your best judgment before using an open fire that may under the right conditions cause a forest fire.

If for any reason you must have a fire (an emergency situation or to avoid one), clear the land around the area of leaves etc. where you intend to make the fire, make a fire pit without digging into the earth, place some good sized, preferably flat stones for the base so that the fire will not be directly on the earth. Make a good fire ring with rocks to prevent the fire from spreading.

If possible, build it near a water source and be ready to extinguish the fire. DO NOT make the fire any bigger than is really necessary, and never leave your fire unattended.

If you want to practice wilderness survival and/or bushcraft, respecting the environment is a part of the learning process.

You can scrape cedar bark to build your tinder bundle.

Here are some reasons for the importance of fire making capability.

1. Warmth

2. Signaling

3. Water boiling to make it potable.

4. Making stews.

5. Preparing a part of a plant or tree to make it edible and safe to eat. (SEE Wild Edibles for more information)

6. Protection from animals, but not so much that in general as protection from insects such as mosquitoes that can carry diseases.

7. Light. It can serve as a central part of a survival camp giving light to the group or to yourself in you are alone. You could potentially make a torch as well.

8. Comfort, as well as that it is a great psychological boost in having a fire. Important when it comes to the Psychology of Survival.

9. Tool and primitive weapon making. Fire hardening makes tools and weapons more durable.

10. Coal burning to make cups and bowls.

It takes a lot of practice to be able to make a fire under certain conditions. I am working on it myself. But remember to go for the modern, and have primitive methodology as a backup. This means that you will need to have modern methods available at all times, such as having a kit with a method of starting a fire such as waterproof matches, with two backup methods, and to possess at least one primitive skill to help you create a fire.

It is important that you know how to use the components in any survival kit, including how to use a firesteel.

Here are some links to help you to learn more about fire in an emergency situation.

1. Wildwood Survival

2. Aircav®

3. Monkey See. This is a video.

4. Survival Topics - Dakota Fire Hole

Have a look at the Videos page as well for more information.

You'll also find more information here on fire while I did a PSK trial as well as here.


Survival Pro Tips 1 Making Fire with an Empty Bic