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How to light a campfire

The campfire is perhaps the most iconic and desired aspect of outdoor life. Together with the obvious, making food and water safe, fire also acts as a focal point and a morale booster. This latter effect cannot be over stressed especially in the more remote regions of the world. Native Americans believed in an evil being named the Wendigo spirit. It was thought that this spirit would steal your life force and was especially active when the sun began to set and it started to rain. If you have ever had a long tiring day in the woods and experienced these conditions you may have noticed how your energy flags and your spirits sink. Undoubtedly the Wendigo is at work sapping your life force. Happily all you need to do is light a fire to chase him away, and again you may have notice how lighting a fire lifts ones spirits in direct proportion to the height of the flames.

With lighting a fire comes great reasonability and you should only light a fire when you have permission of the landowner. Even when permission is granted, fire in certain situations should be avoided. Do not light fires on peaty soils or soils thick with pine or spruce needles. The fire may travel under ground or though the pine needles without you noticing. Dead roots may also cause similar problems; avoid also lighting fires close to trees or their branches and near or on top of vegetation. Finally never light a fire unless you have the means to put it out.

Deciduous woodlands a good place to light a fire as although counter intuitive they are actually quite difficult to burn down. I have provided a quick step by step guide to lighting a small brew fire.

  • Select a site with a mind to minimizing your effects on the environment, an area of leaf mold is ideal.
  • Clear away the leaf mold back to the bare earth
  • Lay down a platform of dead twigs touching each other like a raft so you cannot see the ground. This is to insulate you fire from the cold wet ground.
  • Prepare two bundles of very fine twigs which should look like besom brooms
  • Have your secondary firewood ready ranging in size from the diameter of your little finger upwards to main fuel wood. Bear in mind that for a simple brew fire wrist thick firewood is a little over the top.
  • Have your tinder ready but do not leave it lying around where it can soak up moisture, keep it in your pocket until it is needed.
  • Light your tinder on the platform and place the two twig bundles cross wise over it, for your first go use a match, you can progress to rubbing sticks together later.

Once the twig bundles become established you can load on the various grades of other wood until you are happy it is fit for purpose.

It is important that all of the firewood collected is taken from above the ground. Most months of the year wood from the ground will have soaked up moisture.

Tinder can consist of any fine flammable material and includes things ranging from cotton wool to various tree barks.

Many of use will be familiar with the fire triangle which states fire needs three elements to succeed, heat, fuel and oxygen. I encourage my students to think of it as a fire pyramid because it also needs height. For this reason we keep our initial twig bundles long so we can lay one over the other giving height but also enabling you to keep your hands out of the way.

When the fire is finished with it is important that we clear away thoroughly:

  • Ensure the fire and the ground is completely cold damp it down if necessary.
  • Scrape up all of the ash, charcoal and unburned wood and scatter it thoroughly if several directions. Ensure you have scarped right back to the soil level.
  • Return the leaf mold to its original position disguising the site of your activities.

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