Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fire 101


Fire needs 3 things to be a fire.
  1. Fuel
  2. Oxygen
  3. Heat
If you take one of these 3 things away you have successfully put out the fire. This means that if you don't have one of these, or a sufficient amount of these 3 priorities then you don't have a fire.

Where most people fail at making a fire is not in missing one of those three priorities but in the preparation of the fire.
If you don't take the time to prep the fire you will be cold hungry and potentially dead. So, take the time to properly prep the fire. This is by far the most important aspect of fire making. There are so many ways to start a fire and so many fire making tools it is pretty ridiculous to not be able to get enough heat to start a fire. The problem is keeping the fire going. What you can not control in a survival situation is the fuel. If there is little or wet fuel you will have your work cut out for you.
Last week my girlfriend and I were camping with 2 friends from montana. One of the people from Montana gathered firewood and I began preparation for the fire. It had been raining for a few days before we got out there and the fire wood was wet. Now, whenever there is a rain the best firewood to gather, because it is usually dry, is actually the dead stuff in the tree.
So, I gathered some of that and set up the piles of wood that I wanted and started my fire. Because I had gathered stuff from up high we had enough time to dry out some of the other wood that had been gathered to keep the fire going.

Fuel serves a number of purposes.
  1. fire starting
  2. fire building
  3. fire sustaining
These are all different sizes of fuel and sometimes different materials depending on what you have gathered and how much time you have.

Fire starting has to be,
  1. super fine, light, hairy and about as big as a softball.
  2. about as big as matchstick and tooth picks to catch the bigger stuff. It burns more slowly than the softball of fluff which will help light the bigger stuff.
Fire building comes in multiple sizes also.
  1. matchstick to the size of a pinky finger, this does the same as above, but now we are getting to actual fire and if you had a super tiny fire you could use this to get water boiling
  2. pinky finger to wrist size. This is where when I am by myself cooking I stop. I dont like having a big fire unless I have to. It takes to long to gather split and set up bigger amounts of wood. I find I need far less fuel because my fire is smaller. This is the toyota yaris of fires. (if you make a fancy dakota fire hole it can be the mini cooper s of fires but that is another story).
Sustaining a fire
  1. This is where we need from wrist to logs. This is the I am going to be here awhile and I need to heat up a small city kind of fire. Most often it is really to hot to do anything. However you can set up large logs to burn slowly and consistently, which would allow you to sleep, dry meat, of go and hunt while keeping a fire going and not worrying about it. This is not as easy as it sounds but doable, so practice it. I tend to only use the big stuff when I have a fire place and a place to cuddle in front of it with a warm blanket and some music. Not when I am in the woods.

Other Factors
The next part that is completely up to nature is the weather.
If it is
  1. raining,
  2. SUPER humid,
  3. high altitude
  4. really windy
you have a much more difficult time. Also, what I find interesting when I can't get a fire running I also cant get rid of the bugs. (makes me grumpy)

I have started and run a primitive open unprotected fire in the rain and had an easier time than trying to run a fire in the bayous of Louisianna. That humidity said, "ahh no, nope, no fire for you sir." I ran it for an hour and was working hard to keep it going. It was miserable.

THe higher you get the thinner the oxygen the harder it is to use primitive fire starting skills.

Now, fire accelerators. These are accessories to starting a fire. These are the things that make fire starting easier (most of the time). Think, fuel, petroleum, magnesium shavings, chemicals etc. I use these when I need a fire super quickly and the fuel, oxygen that mama nature has dealt me is super unfavorable. My accelerant of choice is vaseline covered cotton balls that have been lightly rolled in magnesium shavings and are wrapped in aluminum foil. These are emergency back up holy crap I need a fire helpers.
If you practice with using the natural stuff 98% of the time and you use these when needed you will easily get a fire started in austere environments. However if you use them as a staple then you will not have a strong enough foundation for a making a fire when it hits the fan.

In short you have five things that you have to gather in order to have a fire. Most people only gather the first 2 and the last. This is set up to work way to hard. Get ALL of your fuel prepped and ready BEFORE trying to start the fire.
If you don't prep your fire you wont have one. If you don't practice without using accelerants (cheats) you will be hard pressed to have a fire when you need it.

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