Basic Fire Starting 101

Posted by fairmountpack58 on January 8, 2014 at 3:15 PM


It's winter and whether you are camping with the scouts or just with your family, being able to start and control a campfire is a skill that will serve you over and over again. It seems like just about everyone would know how to start a fire and care for it but time and time again we see people in camp that struggle with this basic skill.

Anyone can light a fire with starter fluid or a lighter, but in scouts we work to try and make sure that the boys can be prepared for a variety of situations and types of weather. What happens if you get stranded on a long rural road in winter or lost in the woods when it has been raining? No matter what your life plans are you could be faced with a situation where the only thing between you and illness or death is your level of preparedness. These tips will suit a variety of situations and can be used in everyday camping as well.

Basic Fire Starting 101

1. Pick a good location - In the even that you need to start a fire in an area without a designated fire pit, you need to choose your location carefully. Things to look for would be a good solid location. No steep inclines where you could lose containment of your fire. Try to look for a location without any overhanging branches which could catch fire. Also be mindful of what flammable material may be around your spot. Starting a fire that spreads through the dry grass you are in or over the dry leaf liter you didnt clear away is a very dangerous situation to be in.

2. Pick good wood - So many times when the boys go out to bring back firewood there will be one boy who hauls a giant soaking wet rotten log up from under the leaves and wonders why we cant start the fire with his selection. The starter wood for a fire should be as fine as possible. You start tiny and work your way up in size. A good pile of dry pine twigs the thickness of a matchstick is a GREAT place to start and work up slowly in size to the big logs. You can burn wet wood once your fire is roaring but you cant start a fire with wet wood.

In wet weather it can be a challenge to find dry wood. Look to pine tree lower branches for small, dry usable wood for fire starting and you can usually find dry wood suitable for staring a good base to dry out other wood as you progress in size. A wet fire is not for an unpracticed wannabe woodsman.

3. Remember what a fire needs to exist - Fuel and Oxygen. If you are shy on either of these you will struggle with your fire. Don't pack your tinder in a tight pile and expect it to burn easily. A nice lose pile of very small very dry tinder with your fire starter (match, candle, dryer lint, steel wool, whatever) UNDER the tinder. Heat rises so put your fuel over the heat not under it.

Here is a great video on basic fire starting. He uses a flint and steel to start this with grasses but you could easily use a lighter or a match or a magnifying glass to achieve the same result.

Fire Starting Methods and Equipment

1. Matches - Wooden waterproof matches are a great thing to have in your fire kit. Keep them in a small waterproof case with a piece of sandpaper for striking.

2. Flint and Steel - These come in several varieties from a striker and Flint to an actual rock and piece of steel. Takes a little practice but will produce a spark in the rain and lasts a long time.

3. Dryer Lint - Straight from the screen of your dryer. It is extremely flammable and with light with a spark. Store in a waterproof container or ziplock.

4. Steel Wool - Will light from a spark or with a 9V battery. Very flammable. Store in a waterproof container or ziplock.

5. Candles - An easy way to have a continuous flame when you are dealing with wet wood and helpful when you are low on matches. Needs to be stored in a waterproof container. The wax also has a variety of uses. 6 Hour lantern candles are widely available.

6. Disposable BIC Lighters - Easy to use and cheap. Store in waterproof container.

Fire Safety

The Boy Scout Handbook has a list of rules that we follow for fire safety.

1. Do not build a fire when conditions are too dry. The Ranger in a park will usually post a “No Fire” sign.

2. Build a fire ring or dig a pit. Try to use existing fire rings or pits. Fire rings should be surrounded by dry rocks.

3. If you are removing sod to make a fire, take the sod out in squares. The squares should be dug out at 6” in depth. Save the sod to re-install later. No more than four square feet of sod should be removed. Place sod in a shady location with the grassy side up.

4. Always ensure 5 gallons of water (or plenty of sand or dirt) and a shovel are available by the fire.

5. Clear a 5' radius area encircling the fire. This includes removing any items that may be tripped over. Check above the fire ring to make sure there’s no flammable vegetation.

6. Ensure that fires are a safe distance from tents, tarps, ropes, propane and other fuels, bushes, trees, and any other flammable materials.

7. NEVER have a flame in a tent, including lit matches.

8. Do not play with matches.

9. Do not wave or throw burning sticks. Once a stick is lit, it must stay in the fire.

10. Do not put rocks from streams, lakes or ponds - these may explode and cause injuries.

11. Do not put sealed cans in the fire - these may explode and cause injuries.

12. Do not put plastic in a fire - it releases dangerous fumes.

13. Do not jump over, wrestle around, or run near fires.

There are many ways to use and enjoy a campfire in the outdoors. This is a good starting place for understanding. The best thing you can do is practice in good conditions so you can be prepared for when things are less than optimal.



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