A couple of years ago I was living in Seattle Washington. It was the middle of winter, sick with a bad case of cabin fever and lost hope of the sun ever appearing again, my friend and I decided to try our luck fly fishing for steelhead on the Yakima River. We knew it would be cold, and the forecast was calling for rain, but we ultimately knew anything was better than being cooped up any longer. We packed our bags and our poles and left Seattle at 6:00pm on a Friday night.
The drive didn’t take too long, but the weather was worse than we expected. It wasn’t the normal Seattle rain, that although is constant is rather light and misty, instead this was a real storm, heavy and unashamed. As we got closer, it got even worse. It began snowing. We were too invested at this point. We couldn’t turn around, not yet. Maybe we wanted to live like the UPS, but being in Washington a little rain or even snow should never be a reason to turn us around from a potential adventure.
We unloaded the car, trying to stay as dry as possible, cooked our food and got ready for bed. This was when everything changed. Our tent had a hole, the mixture of snow and rain slipped through our tent. Most of our extra clothes were now wet, but we moved our sleeping bags to the car and tried to stay as warm as possible.
The night was terrible. My bag was damp. The car couldn’t keep our heat, and I slowly began to endure the night. All I wanted was to feel warm, and somehow dry. My mind turned and I knew fire was my only answer.
While in this case, I needed to know how to make a fire in a more extreme situation, knowing how to build a fire in a correct way is I would like to call an any day situation are essential. The nice thing to know is that whether you are at your friend’s backyard bonfire or surviving deep in the wilderness the simple foundational truths of building a fire are the same. I would like to provide two basic foundations, that will hopefully correct old myths, misunderstood practices or core ideas to starting your fire in any and every situation. If followed, and understood, these foundations will help you even to have more fun or help you in important situations.
Please experiment, test, challenge and practice these ideas as you become your own expert in building fires.
Foundation #1 Kindling, Kindling, and more kindling
The biggest problem I see fires, and why they don’t work, is the fire does not have enough kindling. Newspaper will not set a log on fire. Neither will cardboard. Gasoline won’t even catch a log on fire, so please do not try. Kindling, on the other hand, starts in small shavings. You can use a knife, or hatchet to chip away small bits of wood. With a substantial bed of shavings, this will be the beginning of a raging and roaring fire. The bigger the bed of shavings, the better the fire. Gradually add bigger and bigger sticks until you get to big logs. I dare you to start this fire with one match.
Foundation #2 Tend the fire
While there will probably be a debate going on forever about log cabins or teepees approach to your fire, both will fail if you don’t tend your fire. There is no single right practice, method or strategy for the position in which your logs lay while building a good fire. The only law in fire is that fire needs oxygen. For years I never knew how my fire could start so well and then die before I could actually keep the fire going. I was failing to tend, nurture and build my fire in a correct, patient manner. Tending the fire, moving the logs carefully, adding wood to the flame just at the right time and building a bed of coals will be your success to any strong fire.
I hope these help you in your quest for building and understanding a good fire. We would love to hear any fun fire hacks and tricks you may use to build a fire. Please stay safe out there, and have some fun!