survival skille: start a fire

Steps to Make a Fire

Knowing how to start a fire is essential for cooking and keeping warm while exploring the great outdoors.

There are basically two types of fires that campers may build:

  • One type, the tepee fire, is used for cooking food.
  • The other type, the crisscross fire, is best for generating warmth and gathering around for merriment and song.

The steps for both types of fire are the same with the exception of how the logs are positioned once the fire is started.

Remember that fire safety is of utmost importance when building a campfire or a fire in the wilderness. Fires may smolder for days and then burst into huge forest fires that destroy land, homes and even entire neighborhoods – not to mention the potential in loss of life. Fire safety is covered in the last section of the article. Ensure to practice fire safety when building as well as extinguishing an outdoor fire.

As the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts teach young campers, you should always “Leave No Trace” of your fire or even that you have been in the area. Practice fire safety and be kind to Mother Earth when camping and using fire outdoors.

Items You Will Need to Build a Fire

To build a fire, you will need an ignition mechanism, such as a lighter or a wooden match, of course. When exploring the wilderness, wooden matches are great because once you have ignited the fire, you can simply throw the wooden match into the flame to dispose of it.

In addition to an ignition mechanism, you will need:

  • Tinder – Dry pine needles, dried leaves, small twigs and dried bark
  • Kindling – Small sticks around 2.5 centimeters in diameter or smaller
  • Firewood – Larger logs that will provide fuel for the fire
  • Shovel or a Digging Stick
  • Bucket with water. Or if you do not have water near your fire, collect dirt and sand.
  • (Optional) Rocks and stones – to create a fire ring

A fire extinguisher is also a good idea. However, in most cases one will not be available while you are in the wilderness. Make sure to have a bucket of water or dirt handy, though.

Do not use green or fresh cut wood. Green and freshly cut wood will smoke excessively and will not burn well. Select firewood that is dry and approximately 7 to 15 centimeters in diameter. Logs should be no longer than 50 centimeters  in length.

Clear an area of land of any debris, leaves and flammable materials. The best place to build a fire is on a spot of dirt or sand. Make sure there are no tree branches over the fire location.

How To Start a Fire In 10 Easy Steps

  1. Dig a shallow pit 10-15 centimeters deep and 1 meter across.
  2. Arrange the rocks and stones in a circle around the pit to create a fire ring. The fire ring will contain the fire and prevent the fire from spreading into the surrounding grass or ground cover.
  3. Gather the tinder, kindling and firewood and stack into three easy to reach piles near the fire ring. Make sure to keep each of the three types of fuel separate for easy access.
  4. Place a small amount of tinder in the center of the fire ring. A couple of handfuls of tinder, loosely placed in the center of the ring, will do.
  5. Light the tinder with the ignition mechanism (a lighter or wooden match). Position your body with your back blocking the wind while lighting the tinder. If using a wooden match, toss the matchstick onto the small fire.
  6. Slowly pile more tinder onto the fire. Blow on the fire, if needed, to get the tinder to catch the flame.
  7. Slowly add the smaller pieces of kindling to the fire once the tinder is burning. Make sure to keep the kindling pieces close together so that they, too, will catch the flame. Leave small spaces for air to pass through. Do not pack kindling on too fast and do not overload the tinder with kindling pieces. This will extinguish the small fire.
  8. Slowly add larger pieces of kindling to the fire. Soon, the fire will be burning with a visible flame. Once the flame is visible, you may begin to add firewood.
  9. For a teepee fire, build a teepee structure around the burning kindling pile. For a crisscross fire, begin to add the firewood in a crisscross pattern over the burning kindling pile. For the crisscross fire, add one log at a time so that the firewood does not smother the kindling fire.
  10. Add firewood as needed to keep the fire fueled.

Extinguishing the Fire

When you are finished with the fire, you need to take measures to extinguish the fire. Never assume the fire will go out on its own and never, ever leave the fire unattended.

  1. Allow the fire to burn down. If you cannot wait for the fire to burn all of the fuel, douse the fire with buckets of water. Soak any logs that have not burned.
  2. Place your hand where the fire used to be. If there is any warmth whatsoever, continue to douse the spot with water. Touch any partially burned logs to ensure that the fire is not still burning.
  3. Rake the ashes inside the fire ring to ensure the fire is completely out. Again, place your hand on the ground where the fire once was to ensure that the fire is completely out.
  4. Disassemble the fire ring and move the rocks back to their original location. Scatter the ashes and make sure the area looks the same as when you first arrived. Remember, Leave No Trace.

Outdoor Fire Safety

There are a few rules to remember when building a campfire or any type of fire out of doors.

  •  Never build a fire too close to shelters, tents, sleeping bags or anything else that may ignite. This includes overhead branches. Build the fire in a clearing with a dirt or sand floor far away from tents, blankets, clothing or other flammable items.
  • Never use flammable liquids, such as gasoline or lighter fluid, to start an outdoor fire.
  • Keep the fire small. Piling on too many logs may allow the fire to quickly get out of control.

Campfires are a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors. Use good practice and common sense to ensure that you and everyone around you are safe when enjoying an outdoor fire.


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