How to Start a Fire

Starting a fire is one of the primary activities in a survival situation. In nearly any outdoor scenario having a fire is lifesaving. You may need a fire for a number of reasons:

  1. Warmth
  2. Cooking
  3. Light

My grandfather is known for his 1-match fires. I don't think I ever saw him use more than one as a kid. Whether he was starting a fire in the cabin stove, burning refuse, setting up camp, or burning scrap from a construction site. 

Required Components for a Fire

  1. Dry Fuel - In a survival situation the fuel has to be dry. Damp fuel either won't ignite or will smoke - a lot. The paper, wood, leaves, etc. must be dry.
  2. Heat - Whether you are starting a fire with another flame (lighter, match, torch, etc.) or with friction (bow, etc.) you'll need enough heat to ignight your fuel.
  3. Oxygen - You'll need a draft to keep smoke away from the fuel source and fresh oxygen close to it. Fire requires oxygen to burn.

Proven Tips to Starting a Fire

  1. Prepare for the Fire. Find the following and set it aside close to your fire location
    1. Tinder - find small super dry twigs, needles, leaves, or paper - 2 handfuls
    2. Small Fuel - find super dry small twigs and branches - 2 handfuls
    3. Medium Fuel - find medium dry branches - 2 handfuls
    4. Large Fuel - find logs and large branches - enough for the time you need to burn
    5. Secure a Lighter or Matches
  2. Build a Fire Ring. Find a safe place away from water sources. Place large stones in a ring on the ground. Remove any dry grass in the area.
  3. Start with a burnable base. This one gets missed in many tutorials. If you build a fire on the ground, a lot of the heat from the fire gets absorbed into heating the dirt, snow, or rock. Find a flat, dry piece of wood or make a stable platform of medium sized branches.
  4. Build a small mound of super dry twigs, needles, leaves, or paper. Make sure the mound has plenty of air and is NOT compressed.
  5. Build a small structure (teepee, log cabin, etc.) of super dry small branches around the mound. Make sure there is space for the fire to breathe.
  6. Light the Fire. Place your match or lighter low on the small mound until it's lit.
  7. Feed small Fuel. Feed some of the small tinder into the fire as it burns the mound. Feed it until the small structure is burning.
  8. Feed Medium Fuel. Add medium fuel to the burning structure until coals begin to form. 
  9. Feed larger Fuel. Add larger and larger branches until the fire is roaring.
  10. Maintain. Keep adding branches and logs as the fire burns down. You need a minimum of 3 branches or logs in the fire at all times to keep the smoke down.

How to Use a Ferro Rod to Build a fire

For emergency purposes we love ferro rods - assuming they are the righ size. They are durable, work when wet, can be used to start hundreds of fires. Not all ferro rods are the same. 

The Hot Strike Ferro Rod is super reliable and pretty easy to use. Go here for the basic steps to start a fire. To use a ferro rod do the following:

  1. Prepare Your Fuel and Fire Site (MUST BE DRY FUEL!!)
    • Set up a SAFE fire site away from dry grass and debris. This ferro rod produces hot sparks.
    • Gather branches, sticks, wood shavings, dead grass and other fuels.
    • Place a bed of sticks or fuel as a base/ground layer so no heat is lost to the ground.
    • LOOSELY set a bundle of dead/dry grass, small twigs, or wood shavings on the base/ground layer.
    • Set all of your other fuel nearby for quick access. Keep the smallest (DRY) fuel closest.
  2. Using the Ferro Rod
    • Separate the premium striker from the rod by separating the buckles. (optional - remember to connect them again)
    • Use the striker to scrape off the protective black coating on one side of the rod. The flamable ferrocerium material is a bright metallic color.
    • Locate the sharp edges of the striker (opposite side of the ruler - you should be able to see the word "UP" when striking).
    • Hold the tip of the rod just above your small fuel and fire site.
    • Firmly hold the end of the rod (end with the lanyard) in one hand and hold the sharp edge of the striker against the rod at a 45 degree angle. 
    • Scrape agressively toward the open end of the rod while holding the striker at around 45 degrees. Bright sparks will shower your fuel near the end of the rod.
    • Scrape the rod to produce sparks on your dry fuel until the sparks ignite the fuel and you see a flame. 
    • Gently blow on the fuel with the flame to remove smoke and allow the fire to breathe. 
    • As the grass, shavings or small twigs begin to burn, add additional small pieces of fuel until the fire is self sustaining and you can add larger wood.

Be Careful

Any time you start a fire there's a chance of fire getting out of control or someone getting burned. Be careful around the fire. 

  1. Always watch the fire - don't leave it unattended
  2. Keep a first aid kit on hand
  3. Watch little children
  4. No horsing around 

Advanced Fire Starting Methods

In the movie "The Edge" Anthony Hopkin's character tells another character who is struggling psychologically that you can start fire with ice. We had to look it up. Here's what we found:

In the same way, you can use a sandwich bag and water to start a fire. The idea is to create a magnifying glass on super dry tinder. Hopefully the sun is out!

Fatwood is wood heavy in sap found late in the season. You can harvest it and it works as the perfect tinder.

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