To build a fire, it helps to understand the basic principles of a fire. Fuel (in a nongaseous state) does not
burn directly. When you apply heat to a fuel, it produces a gas. This gas, combined with oxygen in the
Understanding the concept of the fire triangle is very important in correctly constructing and maintaining
a fire. The three sides of the triangle represent air, heat, and fuel. If you remove any of these, the fire will
go out. The correct ratio of these components is very important for a fire to burn at its greatest capability.
The only way to learn this ratio is to practice.
Before building a fire consider: The area (terrain and climate) in which you are operating, the materials and tools available, time: how much time you have? Need: why you need a fire?
Look for a dry spot that: is protected from the wind, is suitably placed in relation to your shelter (if any), will concentrate the heat in the direction you desire.
If you are in a wooded or brush-covered area, clear the brush and scrape the surface soil from the spot
you have selected. Clear a circle at least 1 meter in diameter so there is little chance of the fire
spreading. If time allows, construct a fire wall using logs or rocks. This wall will help direct the heat where
you want it. It will also reduce flying sparks and cut down on the amount of wind blowing into
the fire. However, you will need enough wind to keep the fire burning.
Warning: Do not use wet or porous rocks as they may explode when heated.
Fire Material Selection
You need three types of materials to build a fire: tinder, kindling, and fuel.
Tinder is dry material that ignites with little heat, a spark can start a fire. The tinder must be absolutely dry to
be sure just a spark will ignite it. If you only have a device that generates sparks, charred cloth will be
almost essential. It holds a spark for long periods, allowing you to put tinder on the hot area to generate a
small flame. You can make charred cloth by heating cotton cloth until it turns black, but does not burn.
Once it is black, you must keep it in an airtight container to keep it dry. Prepare this cloth well in advance
of any survival situation. Add it to your individual survival kit.
Kindling is readily combustible material that you add to the burning tinder. Again, this material should be
absolutely dry to ensure rapid burning. Kindling increases the fire's temperature so that it will ignite less
combustible material. Choices of Kindling are small twigs, small strips of wood, heavy cardboard, wood that has been doused with highly flammable materials such as gasoline, oil or wax.
Fuel is less combustible material that burns slowly and steadily once ignited. Examples are dry wood, dead branches, animal fats, coal, oil shale, etc...
How to Make a Fire
There are several methods for laying a fire, each of which has advantages. The situation you find yourself in will determine which fire to use, here are some examples:
Pyramid: to lay this fire, place two small logs or branches parallel on the ground. Place a solid layer
of small logs across the parallel logs. Add three or four more layers of logs or branches, each layer
smaller than and at a right angle to the layer below it. Make a starter fire on top of the pyramid. As the
starter fire burns, it will ignite the logs below it. This gives you a fire that burns downward, requiring no
attention during the night.
There are several other ways to lay a fire that are quite effective. Your situation and the material
available in the area may make another method more suitable.
Tepee: to make this fire, arrange the tinder and a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a tepee or
cone. Light the center. As the tepee burns, the outside logs will fall inward, feeding the fire. This type of
fire burns well even with green or wet wood.
How to Light a Fire
Always light your fire from the upwind side. Make sure to lay your tinder, kindling, and fuel so that your
fire will burn as long as you need it. Igniters provide the initial heat required to start the tinder burning.
They fall into two categories: modern methods and primitive methods.
Modern Methods for Starting a Fire
Matches: make sure these matches are waterproof. Also, store them in a waterproof container along with a
dependable striker pad.
Convex Lens: use this method only on bright, sunny days. The lens can come from binoculars, camera,
telescopic sights, or magnifying glasses. Angle the lens to concentrate the sun's rays on the tinder. Hold
the lens over the same spot until the tinder begins to smolder. Gently blow or fan the tinder into flame,
and apply it to the fire lay.
Metal Match: Place a flat, dry leaf under your tinder with a portion exposed. Place the tip of the metal match on the dry
leaf, holding the metal match in one hand and a knife in the other. Scrape your knife against the metal
match to produce sparks. The sparks will hit the tinder. When the tinder starts to smolder, proceed as
Battery: use a battery to generate a spark. Use of this method depends on the type of battery available. Attach a
wire to each terminal. Touch the ends of the bare wires together next to the tinder so the sparks will
Primitive Methods for Starting a Fire
Primitive igniters are those attributed to our early ancestors. Here are some examples:
Flint and Steel: the direct spark method is the easiest of the primitive methods to use. The flint and steel method is the
most reliable of the direct spark methods. Strike a flint or other hard, sharp-edged rock edge with a piece
of carbon steel (stainless steel will not produce a good spark). This method requires a loose-jointed wrist
and practice. When a spark has caught in the tinder, blow on it. The spark will spread and burst into
Fire-Plow: the fire-plow is a friction method of ignition. You rub a hardwood shaft against a softer wood
base. To use this method, cut a straight groove in the base and plow the blunt tip of the shaft up and
down the groove. The plowing action of the shaft pushes out small particles of wood fibers. Then, as you
apply more pressure on each stroke, the friction ignites the wood particles.
Bow and Drill: the technique of starting a fire with a bow and drill is simple, but you must exert much effort
and be persistent to produce a fire. You need the following items to use this method:
- Socket. The socket is an easily grasped stone or piece of hardwood or bone with a slight
depression in one side. Use it to hold the drill in place and to apply downward pressure.
- Drill. The drill should be a straight, seasoned hardwood stick about 2 centimeters in diameter and
25 centimeters long. The top end is round and the low end blunt (to produce more friction).
- Fire board. Its size is up to you. A seasoned softwood board about 2.5 centimeters thick and 10
centimeters wide is preferable. Cut a depression about 2 centimeters from the edge on one side
of the board. On the underside, make a V-shaped cut from the edge of the board to the
- Bow. The bow is a resilient, green stick about 2.5 centimeters in diameter and a string. The type
of wood is not important. The bowstring can be any type of cordage. You tie the bowstring from
one end of the bow to the other, without any slack.
To use the bow and drill, first prepare the fire lay. Then place a bundle of tinder under the V-shaped cut
in the fire board. Place one foot on the fire board. Loop the bowstring over the drill and place the drill in
the precut depression on the fire board. Place the socket, held in one hand, on the top of the drill to hold
it in position. Press down on the drill and saw the bow back and forth to twirl the drill. Once
you have established a smooth motion, apply more downward pressure and work the bow faster. This
action will grind hot black powder into the tinder, causing a spark to catch. Blow on the tinder until it
- Primitive fire-building methods are exhaustive and require practice to ensure
- Use nonaromatic seasoned hardwood for fuel, if possible.
- Collect kindling and tinder along the trail.
- Add insect repellent to the tinder.
- Keep the firewood dry.
- Dry damp firewood near the fire.
- Bank the fire to keep the coals alive overnight.
- Carry lighted punk, when possible.
- Be sure the fire is out before leaving camp.
- Do not select wood lying on the ground. It may appear to be dry but generally doesn't provide enough
More information: We hope this page was helpful and provided you with some survival techniques on how to prepare and start a fire in the wilderness. Check out our main page for more survival scenarios here Survival Guide, knowledge is light, and knowledge can save your life. Make sure you do your best to know what to do in a survival situation and then hope for the best.
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