Make a fire, and stay alive
Now that the Priorities of Survival are out of the way and you are happy with PLWF and how to use it, lets look at some of the practical skills required to address these priorities, starting with the basics of how to make a fire!
Now, I don’t know about you, but I love fire and it casts a very primal spell over me that has me entranced when I have a roaring fire burning away. I have been like this as long as I can remember and I doubt it is going to disappear anytime soon. Joking aside, this is a deep rooted and ingrained connection that humans first developed around 750,000 to 1,000,000 years ago when they found out how to make a fire.
Learning how to make a fire is what really proved that man was indisputably evolved and different from the ape. It allowed early humans to venture out in the night and to gain heat during cold periods. Using fire as a tool also allowed spear tips to be hardened and resins from plants to be used as a glue for securing these spear tips. This gave early humans a huge advantage over other animals, namely prey. Once the prey was caught it could then be cooked which allowed easier access to the proteins contained within the meat.
The added side effect of fire was that predators and insects didn’t like smoke and flames and this afforded early man with some much needed protection. This in turn allowed a relative amount of impunity when predators were wandering around trying to find their dinner.
So, to try and emphasise the importance of early man learning how to make a fire and why it has a primal connection for most; without fire man would not be here in his present form.Your very existence and the fact you are reading this text on a computer, you drive a car, are able to visit a supermarket, fly around the world all came about as a result of fire.
So how did ancient man make a fire?
There were 3 main methods that ancient man used in order to obtain fire; friction, sparks and natural fires. lets look at each in turn.
This is perhaps the most commonly known method used as it is easy and can be utilised in pretty much any geographical location. It involves 2 pieces of material (normally wood) being rubbed together in some way so that friction produces heat. This heat in turn causes a fine combustible material to ignite or at the very least start to smoulder. This can then be used (very carefully) to ignite another less fine combustible material which in turn is used to ignite an even less fine combustible material and so on until you have your 3 storey inferno raging, this is the simple way in which man learnt to make a fire.
Modern man has it easy in comparison as there are several methods of making sparks such as Ferrocerium rods or ‘flint and steels’, lighters and electricity. Ancient man had to make a fire with flint which is a very specific type of stone, although there are other kinds of stone that can be used. Striking or rubbing these stones together caused small sparks to come off that could be channelled in order to ignite or at least cause smouldering of some combustible material.
The flint method was more difficult and required patience… Lots of patience as it can be very hit or miss and helped to coin the phrase ‘flint fire rage’. This is the state of rage that you inevitably find yourself in after 45 minutes of trying to get a spark sufficient enough to make a fire. Okay, it maybe isn’t an internationally recognised phrase but it does exist; don’t believe me, try using stones to make fire, its easier to get blood out of a stone!
This was the most efficient method, but the least predictable or reliable, it simply involved using a naturally occurring fire to ignite a branch that could be taken to a place of ancients man’s choosing. As it was naturally occurring there was no way of predicting when or where this was likely to happen. As natural fires are more likely in the summer it unfortunately coincided with the time of year that ancient man least needed fire i.e. when it was warm. This provided the impetus for the skills being developed to make a fire on demand.
So what do you need for a fire to burn?
In simple terms you need 3 things for a successful fire, Fuel, Oxygen and Heat. The absence of just one of these will prevent a fire from starting or extinguish a fire that is already burning. These 3 components are known as the fire triangle and are key to understanding fire and how you can make a fire and more importantly sustain it. Let’s now assume you have all 3 of these components and you want to start a fire, the final piece of the puzzle is an ignition source to get it all started.
What do I need to make a successful fire?
There are 4 main things you will need for your fire lighting skills to progress from a smouldering ember to towering inferno. You will need an ignition source, tinder, kindling and additional fuel. Most people can get the first 2 stages covered sufficiently that they can at least cause a small amount of smoke or a tiny flame. Progressing things from there is, in my experience, where most people struggle.
What can I use as an ignition source?
There are several options that you can buy to help you make a fire – Lighter, matches, chemicals, electricity, sparks, friction; the list goes on and on. I will not focus on any of these in particular as it doesn’t really matter what the ignition source is as the ignition source is just used to start the process off. Every fire follows the same route once the initial ignition source has been used.
The importance of tinder… for fires, not dating!
Tinder is the most important part of your fire lighting kit, without it you will simply not make fire. Tinder is easily combustible material used to cause fire by rudimentary methods. Importantly tinder is generally not self sustaining, it normally requires an input from you to keep the flame or smouldering going such as blowing on glowing embers or protecting from a slight breeze. Examples of tinder are
- Dry grass
- Thin paper
- cotton wool
- Magnesium shavings
- Birch Tree bark
The list is huge, essentially you want something that is dry and easily combustible.
Kindling is the bridge to a roaring inferno
Kindling is material that is easily combustible but is not combustible directly from your ignition source, it is something that can be ignited from a match, lighter or small flame. Kindling is used to bridge the gap between a minuscule flame of your tinder to a self sustaining fire that can be left for a few hours. Examples of kindling are
- Twigs (1 – 5mm wide)
- Wood splinters
- Grass (dry)
- Leaves (dry)
- Bark (dry)
Again the list is virtually endless, most things could be used for kindling if it is small enough and if it combusts easily. You are aiming to get your tiny flame or smouldering tinder into a big flame as quickly as you can so that you can make your fire self sustaining. If you do this correctly you will end up with several small glowing embers that can be used to sustain your fire and allow it to slowly smoulder for hours.
This is the stuff that big fires are made of, this is the final stage that will make a fire that is self sufficient and can be left for hours without is fizzling out. In theory, once you get to this stage you can put any size of fuel source onto the fire and it will burn. This is the part that a lot of people fall down on by trying to get to this stage too soon or don’t have enough fuel (things to burn) and the fire dies out. A fire at this stage will have a pretty big appetite for additional fuel; a few twigs just wont cut it. Its one thing managing to make a fire its another sustaining it.
How much fuel do I need?
I generally work on a simple ratio of 20:1. You will need 20 times the kindling as you do tinder and 20 times as much main fuel as you do kindling. Once you get to this stage the fire should be self sufficient long enough for you to leave it unattended for a while, such as overnight. This is a rough planning figure and is not hard and fast as environmental and weather conditions will affect this quite a bit.
Crawl, Walk, Run.
The theory is actually very simple; the practice, not so much! If I was given a £ for every time I swore and cursed when I have tried to make a fire I would be living on a private yacht somewhere in the Caribbean. I have lost count of the amount of time that it has taken me more than a couple of attempts to get a fire going. This is not because I am particularly bad at it, in fact I would say I am actually pretty good, it is just that it requires varying amounts of luck and skill.
The key to getting it right first time and having a sustainable fire is preparing all of your tinder, kindling and main fuel before you even attempt to raise a tiny flame let alone make a fire that will keep you warn all night. the single biggest reason people fail to have their raging inferno within a few minutes, is either lack of sufficient fuel or putting main fuel on before the fire too soon and it wont ignite. When firelighting you have to be patient and use the motto, Crawl, Walk, Run.
What kind of prep should you get out of the way beforehand?
The following list is not exhaustive but will help to get you on the right path in your quest to make a fire.
- Find a suitable dry area for your fire but that wont ignite the surrounding area or the ground (peat, leave mulch, grass etc).
- Ensure the weather or environment wont affect your endeavours to make a fire in the first place or your subsequent bonfire i.e. Rain, high winds, a flooding river etc.
- Select a suitable method for initially igniting your fire.
- Gather sufficient tinder, kindling and main fuel to sustain the fire for a few hours.
- Prepare your tinder, kindling and main fuel so that it is ready to be used as soon as the fire starts. This means breaking it into a usable sizes that allow for combustion and easy of use.
- Tinder – ensure it is dry and easily accessible should you require more in order to keep the initial flame going.
- Kindling – Have sufficient within arms length to sustain your fire for a few minutes. You will need more than you think you will!
- Main fuel – Ensure it is small enough and prepped in a way that will initially allow easy combustion i.e. dry, smaller pieces or split.
- Build your fire prior to trying to ignite it. I always make a small pyramid that is about 2 – 3 feet high that contains my tinder tucked away in the middle (about an inch across). This is then surrounded by lots of kindling (remember the 20:1 rule,this is around 18 – 24 inches high) and this is then surrounded by some pieces of the main fuel. The size (thickness) of the fuel within the pyramid should get progressively bigger/wider the closer it gets to the outside.
- Finally, when all of this is in place, ingite your tinder. If you have done this correctly then everything should be self sufficient for a few minutes and will allow you to monitor it whilst being the image of calm…
The reality is that when you make a fire it will probably not ignite first time and be self sufficient straight away. The only way you can help this is to practice, practice, practice! Ensure you are confident on what to do and can do it consistently; fire lighting is a life-saving skill that every survivalist should be able to do.
I will look at fire lighting in another post, I just wanted to give you a quick background on fire lighting. Hopefully this has helped you to learn something new about fire and fire lighting. If you just cant wait and want to but some cool fire lighting gadgets then please try here.
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Let me know what you think or if you have your own ways of doing things. You can do this by commenting below and please share with your friends.