If there is one survival skill that can be really useful in the outdoors, it is how to light a fire – and preferably in a number of different ways. A fire provides safety, warmth and light. You can boil water and prepare food, and you can use it to signal for help in an emergency. But you also need to be careful that your fire does not harm the ground or spread and start a forest fire. This, of course, requires extra attention during the warm, dry periods of the year.
A fire needs heat, fuel and oxygen in certain proportions to burn. Practice different methods, for example during shorter treks with family and friends, so you can rely on your skills when they are really needed. What to do:
1. Gather firewood, enough for how long you want to have a fire. You should not need to leave the fire unmonitored to gather more wood.
2. Choose a location where there is little risk that the fire will spread or harm the ground and vegetation. Gravel and sand are ideal. Avoid places where there are a lot of roots.
3. Build a fire pit, by forming a ring of stones or digging a hole, and fill it with loose stones or sand so the fire is not directly on the ground.
4. If you have time, build a reflector. Set up two vertical stakes and stack the wood between them, like at an old-fashioned fence. The reflector reflects the heat toward you and also functions like a drying rack for damp wood.
5. Light the fire! Once you have gotten a flame, often from kindling or bark, gradually increase the thickness of twigs and branches until you are adding chopped wood. Make sure there is plenty of room for air.
6. Keep an eye on the fire so it does not spread outside the pit or reach your equipment.
Just as important to put it out
You have to be very careful when putting out a fire, and you must double-check that there are no embers that can reignite once you have left the campsite. Root fires can go quite far down underground and increase the risk that the fire will reignite. For this reason, peat, moss or earthy forest ground are not suitable surfaces for fires since the fire can smoulder there for a long time.
To put out a fire, you should pour water over it several times. If you used stones to form the fire pit, move them apart so the concentration of heat does not encourage the fire to reignite.
Rules and limitations
According to the right of common access, you may not break off or cut down living bushes or peel off bark from growing trees to fuel your fire. Also, remember that national parks and nature reservations can have special restrictions against fires - it can be completely forbidden or only allowed in certain, specified areas. It is your responsibility to research which rules apply in the area where you will be, for example from park officials, county administrative boards and tourist boards. In emergency situations where it is a matter of life and death, whether yours or another person’s, fires are always allowed, even in protected areas.
Lighting a fire – what you will need:
• Knife, small axe/handsaw
• Matches in a waterproof container
• Fire steel – practice at home so you know how it is used
• Something to start the fire with, for example dry birch bark. Or a tampon – there are enough fibres on a tampon to light many fires
• A small piece of candle will help you save matches if your fire does not want to light