If you were to go back in time a few hundred years ago, people would have been able to start a fire with ease and precision.
But, now, in the twenty-first century, we so used to technology, having lighters or matches on hand that very few people know what to do if they are stuck out in the wilderness with no heat or light source. How do you start a fire?
Without technology and all the advances that have come to pass in the last few hundred years starting a fire with little more than nature can supply sounds like a challenge, and not one that many would be pleased to be faced with in real life.
So, in the case that it may happen to you, let’s explain what you should do to start a fire.
When in temperate climates it is important to keep the body temperature at a normal regulated level of 37 degrees Celsius/ 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you are out in unforgiving climates at night, fire is essential to keep this temperature to avoid hypothermia, as in the US alone, hypothermia accounts for at least 1,500 deaths per year.
It also allows you to cook food or boil water, which is especially good if you need to sterilize drinking water when in the wilderness, as boiling water can purify it and get rid of any bacteria that may be present.
A very good technique if you are in need of clean drinking water in the wild. It can also be used to make a broth, cook food, and also to protect yourself from any potential night-dwelling predators that may be skulking nearby.
The Combustion Triangle
There are three things that you will require to make your fire and keep it burning, these are; oxygen, heat, and fuel.
Oxygen- Fire, like most things, feed on oxygen, it is exceptionally unlikely that you will be low on oxygen, so this is not an area of concern.
The only time where it may be more sparse is if you are hiking at a high altitude, as in higher altitudes oxygen levels are lower, if you were to attempt to build a fire at Mt Everest’s peak, it will likely be a bit more difficult to keep it going than at sea level.
A fire’s requirement of oxygen is seen in the use of fire blankets to extinguish smaller flames, in cooking or on clothing, as they cut off the supply of oxygen to the flame causing it to go out.
Heat- Heat can be achieved by rubbing sticks together in the old fashioned way, striking flint or lighting with a match if you have one. If you rub sticks together ensure they are dry ones, as ones that contain moisture will not spark as well, this is why it is best to use dead sticks as living sticks from trees will still contain moisture.
Fuel- fuel is anything that could be flammable, tinder, kindling, or firewood. If you are in the woodlands in the fall, we recommend using dry and dead leaves and twigs.
Dry and crunchy fall leaves are great for fueling a flame. If you have paper on you this can also work, but thicker materials will last longer and extend the life of your flame.
Safety is imperative when dealing with fire there are some things you can consider to ensure the safety of yourself and anyone with you.
- Make a clearing for your fire, removing any plants, grass, twigs, and so on, so the area of your fire has a solid dirt floor with no debris to prevent that fire from spreading or getting out of control.
- Do NOT place plastic into your fire, plastic releases harmful toxic chemicals when burned.
- Do NOT place fireworks or any explosive items into the fire, this could easily injure yourself, others, or worse.
- Keep children and pets away from the flame and at a safe distance.
- Tie any long and avoid any loose clothing getting hear the flame, you do not want to set yourself on fire.
- Wear protective gear if you have any.
- Keep water nearby just in case.
- Keep flammable items away.
- Ensure your fire is built at a safe distance from trees, fences, sheds, and wires.
Making your Fire
Clear any grass or plants from the circular area, the size of this space will depend on the intended size of your fire. Line the area with rocks as a makeshift border between you and the fire and to insulate the area for more heat.
Start building with twigs and sticks, adding dry leaves, dry grass, and dry dead plants which will act as your tinder. Light this with matches if you have any or use your selected ignition device. (Rubbing sticks or flint.)
If you are a bit stuck on what to do, you can use a sharp tool, a knife or even a key will usually suffice, and cut a ‘V’ shape in a flat piece of wood, add some bark or tinder into the V shape that will ready to catch an ember.
Then use a dry and rounded stick, spinning it back and forth in the ‘V’ notch you have created, while pressing down lightly. This should spark eventually and when it does place it into your tinder pile and blow on it to create a healthy flame.
To manage the best airflow for your fire, arrange large sticks or logs around your fire in a cone/ teepee shape, This will allow a healthy airflow to the fire, whilst also keeping it protected and providing extra fuel for the flames. Keeping it strong and keeping you warm.
Though the idea of starting a fire can be a daunting concept, it gets easier the more you do it. If you have modern equipment to help you start a flame then things will be a little easier for you, but mastering the primitive methods can be a life-saver in survival situations.