The ability to start and maintain a fire, is critical in a survival situation. However, before we start building any type of fire, it’s important that we have a discussion about some of the basic principles of fire craft.

In this guide we’ll talk about some of the fundamentals yet critically important aspects of building, and sustaining a fire in the wild.

RULE OF 3’S

One of the most important principles of survival is the survival rule of threes.

It says that

  • you can live three minutes without air,
  • three hours without shelter,
  • three days without water
  • and three weeks without food.

Starvation is generally not what kills people in the wilderness. What kills people in the wilderness is exposure to the elements. Exposure to cold wind, cold weather, wet conditions, and snow, rain, sleet, ice.

SURVIVAL FIRE USES

Shelter: One of the most important purposes of a survival fire is that it is a form of shelter.

Dry gear: It can also be used to dry my clothes, dry gear, keep oneself warm and provide comfort.

Purify water and cook: Some of the other uses are to purify water with it to make it safe to drink, cook food, and food preservation.

Signaling: Smoke makes an excellent signal that not only can you see it during the day, but you can also see it at night, and you can see it from some distance away. And unlike most signals, it has an olfactory aspect to it which you can smell from along way off.

That might help you if you’re trying to link up with the rest of your party, or if you’re trying to be found by a rescue party.

It also leaves a trace of your path. If you had a survival fire and you’re moving from point A to point B, trying to make your way back to civilization every time you stop and lay a fire, you’re leaving a trail.

Psychological: One of the greatest aspect of a fire is the positive psychological effect, from having a warm, comfortable fire to sit next to. It kind of gives you that sense, that feeling that everything is going to be okay.

With all the different uses that a fire has, between shelter, or water, food, signal, and just the overall psychological effect, the ability to start and maintain a fire is critical to survival.

FIRE SAFETY

Whenever you have a fire though, it’s important to have a fire that’s safe. You don’t want to burn down your shelter or your environment. If you get injured, because you got a burn, there’s a really good chance that it’s going to get infected and that’s going to cause you more problems.

Look at the conditions:

Whenever you’re building a fire, look at your conditions. If it’s dry out, if there’s a danger of an ember sparking off your fire and starting the woods next to you on fire, or catching your shelter on fire, then that’s something you’re going to want to mitigate.

Make a fire ring:

Clear a three foot base, scratch it right down to the ground, and then make a fire ring around that.

When you make your fire ring it’s important to use nonporous rocks.

Don’t use your sand stones or anything like that but try to use a good solid rock.

Don’t use rocks that you’ve found in water streams or that have been soaking in water because once they heat up the moisture that’s trapped inside, the heat will then cause them to explode. You’ll have fragments of rocks flying everywhere, which can cause some injury.

Keep you fires are ventilated.

Sometimes when the weather is changing you may want to bring your fire inside, or at least re-establish a small fire inside to protect it so that when the weather gets better you can re-establish it easier.

You need to be careful with that because of carbon monoxide poisoning. If there’s no good ventilation, then that carbon monoxide poison could be a real problem.

THE FIRE TRIANGLE

Now if you look at the fire triangle, you need three things to start and sustain a fire, heat, fuel and air (oxygen).

TYPES OF FUEL

You can take fuel, and you can break it down even further.

You’ve got three different things that you need to think about with fuel; tinder, kindling and actual fuel.

Tinder

Most people have probably heard the phrase, where the rubber meets the road. When you think about tinder, tinder is where the heat meets the fuel.

Tinder is one of the most important things that can make or break your ability to start a fire.

There are different types of tinder. There’s natural tinder’s, and there’s man-made tinder’s.

Tinder needs to be fluffy like a cotton ball. It needs to have a lot of surface area, to catch a spark or take a flame. It needs to be dry and it needs to be something that’s highly combustible.

The key concept of tinder, other than it being dry, fluffy and highly combustible is that it readily accepts the ignition source that you’ve chosen to use, be it an open flame, a hot spark or a transfer in an ember. It needs to take the heat from that quickly, and spread it throughout the rest of your fuel sources.

Kindling

Kindling on the other hand is something that gradually increases in size, and that helps establish your fire.

You may need to start with match stick size, then I go to pencil size, then I go to marker size. Then once that’s burning and established, then you can start adding your fuel.

Fuel

Fuel is usually wrist size or larger and it sustains the fire for long periods of time, once its burning. There are several different types of wood you can use for fuel which include; softwoods and hardwoods.

A couple of the key things to think about is that softwoods catch quickly and they burn quickly, so you need more of it. Hardwoods catch slower but they burn slower as well, so you need less of it.

Before you start building your fire, you want to make sure that you have everything prepared ahead of time. You need to have all your tinder, all your kindling and all your fuel. You want to gather enough to make it through the night. You don’t want to be up all night gathering firewood as it goes out, so you want to gather all that stuff ahead of time.

A good rule of thumb is when you think you have enough fuel to get through the night you need five times more.

Those are some of the basic fire craft principles that you’re going to use every time you make a fire. Your ability to apply those principles are going to make you a lot more successful when you’re out in the wilderness.

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