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Sunday, July 26, 2015


Fire gives us warmth, cooks our food, gives us light and is a comforting magic to keep away the night.
Having the ability to create fire instills a confidence factor that all will be okay, it can be a life saver or out of control. Many feel one of the great pleasures is a camp fire and gives us a connection to our primal self. A camp fire is a place to tell stories and relax.
The training to create fire is a base skill, the foundation of your skills you need to own—The where, when and the why of fire.
In today’s world, we have at our convenience many fire starters that would be true magic to our ancestors. Most of the devices work just fine, some are a little on the gimmicky side. So, if you stick to the simple means of fire starters you might be better off. I feel the Bic lighter, or other brands, are perfect devices; get a wind proof one, if you can. Matches are wonderful, if you know how to use them—takes practice. Carry them in a “match safe “, or in plastic baggies They also make windproof matches that are excellent. I like to carry matches with a long handle and water proof them with wax or paraffin. Carry those in a waterproof container. Metal matches works well also, so does flint and steel.
The rule of thumb is to have at least 3 ways to make fire. My friend, Alan Halcon, who is a master at the ancient fire drill, when asked how he likes to make fire, his answer is “with a Bic or some sort of lighter”. Owning the skill to make fire, with a hand drill or bow and drill, is a good backup. However, if you are down to that one method (friction fire) you are in deep poo poo and up the creek without a paddle, but it could still save your sorry butt. Some carry a can of Sterno, Cotton balls soaked in vaseline or other tinders… All are good. Learn to make charcloth. Cattail fluff at the right time of year is good, as well as the fluff from cotton wood trees, willows and others. There is more you will find, as you study and gain knowledge of fire
Learn to start fires with the various tools at your disposal. Practice in your yard. The time to practice is not when you are desperate for fire.
Always prepare your tinder, kindling and fuel first. Be ready! when the tiny spark is created, you do not want to be rushing around trying to find the right sized woods as your fire is dying in front of you—you might not get another chance. Always be aware of what is around you that can catch on fire. Fire can get out of control in a heartbeat. What is overhead and around the fire? Make a pit or at least surround the fire lay with rock. Clean away any duff on the ground, away from where the fire will be. Be aware of any root systems and stay away from them. Keep your gear away from the fire as well. You don’t want to burn up your stuff. Having water nearby is always good. If not, pile up some dirt close by, ready to throw on the fire if it gets just a bit out of hand. Once the fire is safe, don’t let it fail. that’s why you have prepared the proper woods in advance.
Fire fails by you trying to progress too fast. Add the right size of wood in a logical manner—small stuff first. Many like to start with a tepee fire or cabin lay that you can add the larger wood to as the kindling gets stronger. Kindling snaps when dry. If it is wet, it kind of bends… that’s your test. My suggestion is to split the kindling, it ignites better. The type of wood available will dictate your fire success… Experience will teach you this. Hard woods are hard to ignite and burn slow creating great coals. Softer woods ignite fast and burn fast. Coals are not as good as hardwood. So if you do not know the wood how do you test it? You can try the thumbnail test and see if it leaves a dent , or stab a knife into it. If it goes in really easy it is a soft wood.
In movies, they always show someone cooking over flames. That is just for a visual effect, because coals don’t film well, no dynamics, but you always cook over coals. you can cook just about any critter. over the coals by skewering the beast and wait for the yum yum.
For fire lays, I like a keyhole fire lay. It has the main fire area. From that point, you make a longer trench or line with rock, about 6 inches wide so the coals are concentrated, and about 2 feet or so long or so, where you move the coals so you have a cooking area as the fire continues to make even more coals, place your cookware over the coals. If you are going to cook in the morning, bank the fire with dirt and ashes, then the morning cooking will be fast and easy.
Always play it safe. Never leave any hint of a spark when you leave make sure it is dead out. Add water by the bucket. Pile dirt on it… make sure twice. Many of you already are fire experts but we always have new campers., and even old hands might need a reminder.

By Dude McLean

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  1. Have always loved the keyhole fire lay if there was any cooking to be done. For a longer term base camp, one with some kind of reflector is even better and helps to direct smoke "up". (Boy am I preaching to the choir here or not? GRIN!)

  2. Thanks Dave for your comments... yep the keyhole lay is a a great one you can even create an oven with it... all right on 3 and one.. the keyhole fire lay song ... make up your own lyrics..