Thursday 29/01/15

Keeping warm doesn't present too much of a challenge in the comfort of your home. You have blankets in your linen cupboard and warm clothes in your wardrobe. You probably have a fireplace, electric heater or air conditioning to warm your home. Cooking your food isn't much of a challenge if you have a stove or oven.

If you are camping or find yourself stranded, a fire gives you light, heat and will boost your morale. Starting a fire and keeping it going will give you something constructive to do if you are stranded and waiting for help.

If you were stranded for a night or two, would you know how to light a fire? Do you have any equipment that would help you light a fire? I'm not suggesting that you walk around town with enough fire-lighting paraphernalia to rival your neighbourhood arsonist, I mean in your car (specifically, in that overnight-bag full of gear I suggested you carry a few weeks ago). If not, you should consider adding fire making tools to this bag.

Ideally, you should have at least three different ways to make fire. My preferences are:

  • Weatherproof matches,
  • A disposable lighter,
  • A magnesium flint with striking steel.

There are other methods of lighting a fire, such as a bow-drill, but they require practice beforehand. You don't want to try these methods out for the first time when you are in serious trouble. You could also focus sunlight through a magnifying glass or the lens of your glasses onto tinder, but this only works on a clear, sunny day. No sun = no fire.

You should also carry some form of tinder with your fire-tools, because you can't always rely on your surroundings to provide you with something suitable. I suggest keeping your tinder in either a zip-lock bag or small, airtight plastic container. Two readily available sources (in every home) are:

  • Lint from the dryer (not only is it highly flammable, it's free),
  • Cotton balls infused with petroleum jelly (yes, that stuff you rub on your lips when they're chapped). Cotton wool with petroleum jelly burns four times longer than cotton wool on its own.

The rest of your fire building is fairly straight forward. Gather your firewood, tinder and kindling first. Clear debris, even grass, from the area you intend to build your fire. Bare earth is best. Also, clear any debris that is near the fire. If possible, use rocks to build a ring around the fire. Then build your fire; tinder on the ground with a tee-pee or pyramid of kindling above it. Build a larger tee-pee of sticks above this. Once your fire is established, you can gradually feed larger and larger pieces of wood into the fire.

I know this information is fairly basic, but not everyone knows how to build a fire. (Yes, I actually know adults who can't make a fire and keep it going once it's lit.)

Never leave your fire unattended. Once a fire is lit, accidents can happen (embers travel on the slightest of updraughts). When you are done with your fire, make sure you extinguish your fire properly. (Notice I keep referring to your fire? You created that fire, so you are responsible for not letting it get out of control. Even if you have no conscience and don't care about anyone else, do you really want to die in a forest fire that you caused?). After the fire burns out, drown the remains with water and stir it with a stick, ensuring nothing hot remains. Burying the remains with sand will help too.

Until next week; keep safe.