Everything You Need to Know About Fire

John Neefus

6

Min Read

How to start it, use it, and put it out. Oh yeah, and fire safety too.

The Quick Version of this blog post

Fire is the real spork of the woods. It can provide you cooked food, warmth, a conversation location, and sometimes some unique and slightly painful first degree burns. The more you camp, the more you realize that fire is your best friend once you leave your house for the great outdoors. There are tons of ways to start a fire, including Matches, Lighters, Magnifying glasses, flint and steel and then the really questionable ways that only the mountain men know. But no matter how you start a fire, there are some important things you need to remember to keep that fire burning to your expectations and needs in the planned location, and not burning, well, everything. 


Fire Safety 

Bro. it's real. Smokey the bear is right, but he’s also a bit extra. Of all the things to skimp on when camping, fire safety is 100% NOT the one. (and i'm not just saying this so i dont get sued. U hurt my forest, and i'll hurt you)  Do your prep, be safe. Like riding a motorcycle or tweezing your eyebrows, be way, WAY to careful. The first basic rule of fire safety is to make sure that you’ve got a big wide area of bare dirt around your fire. This ensures that no sparks or burning logs can catch the rest of the forest on fire. Second, always have a water source that you can use to put out a blaze. And to be specific, I mean have a pot of water or a couple water bottles, not just a stream or pond within a quarter mile. If stuff goes wrong, you dont wanna have to run a quarter mile just to GET the water to stay alive. That falls in the category of straight up not having a good time.  Third, Obey the park Rangers fire advisory. If they say it's too dry or too dangerous, believe them. Finally, know your limits; adding all the wood you can find (in the woods) can go really wrong.


Steps to Flame On 

Fire. The idea is pretty simple. Light a match under dry wood and boom, flame on. But get dropped in the woods with nothing but 5 matches and it suddenly gets a whole lot harder. To be able to clutch it in that (hypothetical until its reality) situation, you’re gonna need to know a not only the basics but a couple of critical secrets 


I'm gonna talk you through the basic 7-step checklist to starting a fire with a match, and then I'll tell you what someone who has done that a couple hundred times is looking for and how to succeed, easily.


  1. Flat
  2. Wind
  3. Tiny Wood
  4. Big wood
  5. BUILD IT
  6. Fire
  7. Wind
  8. Done

Area Setup

First, you need somewhere flat to build it. Realistically you don't need much more than a 1 foot by 1-foot zone for the fire. A flat surface is really, really important. Having your fire decide to go for a walk directly at you (like if you are downhill of it) is very not fun and a serious forest fire hazard. On that note, Fire can spread, so ALWAYS clear at least a 5-foot area around your fire of all things that could burn. If you can't find a level section of dirt, what you can do is find a big rock and use that as a leveler or fire stopper. (( see Diagram )) Alternatively, excavate. (see Diagram)  Once you have your ring of bare dirt and a flat surface, then you can move on to…..


Beware the wind 

Fires run on oxygen, sort of like you run on coffee and planes run on Jet fuel.  Yes, the sticks are what burn, but oxygen makes that process either really slow and tedious (low oxygen) or really quick and hot (like me). Check and see if you have a breeze from any direction, and make a note of it. This will be important in our BUILD phase.


What wood to grab

You have 5 tiny matches. If you go to the nearest tree and try to light it, YOU WILL FAIL. Why? Remember this easy rule. Tiny match light Tiny wood. So you need to get tiny wood. 


OK. Before we go any further. WATER DOES NOT BURN. so… if that's true then WATER + STICKS = NO FIRE.

  

Green-Wood:: wood from a living tree, or freshly fallen wood. 

Brown wood:: Deadwood that's on the ground or on a dead tree.

The difference between the 2 is literally color. Also, if you’re a bit crazy like me, you can test 

This by touching the wood with your tongue. If it tastes dry and sticks to your tongue, its dry. That said, don't go too crazy or you WILL get labeled tree licker by your friends. 


OK. SO Brown wood only. That's the burny stuff

So you need small sticks. Everything from tiny twigs, spaghetti wood, pencil-sized, and then from hotdog to those big ol honkin bratwurst sticks. Separate them out into a coupe piles by size. This will make building easier once you have a flame going. 


You will be tempted to use leaves. Do not succumb to the dark side. Why? Leaves are basically just smoke paper. Even if you use a ton of them, and they are perfectly dry, they will not generate an effective amount of heat or fire to catch the tiny twigs on fire. Also, once they burn, they leave little ghost leaves of ashes that keep flames from getting out and wind from getting in. Both of those are bad. How do you think smoke signals get sent? Wet leaves. So just avoid them, and stick to the tiny twigs the leaves grow on. 


This is the part of the show where you need to start thinking about what the fire is for. Is this fire for food or for fun?  If you are cooking, You need sticks that will support a pot or pan. You want green wood for this. It will char on the outside, but shouldn't burn through before you are done cooking. Regardless keep an eye on it. For general fuelwood, you just want big dry sticks or chunks of firewood. Not that complicated.


Now, in general there are 5 main types of fires. I'll introduce you to each, show you a diagram or two, and let you know where each build is strongest. 


Teepee: 

--Strengths -- Hella Easy. 

-- Weaknesses -- It's a bit unstable, and doesn't earn you the best coal bed. Easily blown out.


Cabin:

--Strengths -- Hella Easy. Issa Box. Very Sturdy.

-- Weaknesses -- Collapses and starves air. 


Lean To:

--Strengths --  Great Shelter for a small flame

-- Weaknesses -- Airflow can be decidedly suboptimal. Usually requires you to blow on it a good deal to get it started


Star:

--Strengths -- Hella Airflow. Looks cool unlit.

-- Weaknesses -- it's complicated, and when it collapses it does so unpredictably.


Danger Zone: Literally just chuck sticks in a pile and light it.

--Strengths -- Stupid easy when you have one of those lighting blocks or some sort of big flame device like a blowtorch

-- Weaknesses -- NONE. IT'S JUST FREAKING COOL.

DON'T BE A DUMMY. BE SAFE. Burning to death is never cool.

Light fire, get flame


Actually starting the fire

Now, and only now do you get to light up. 

You can start a fire with

  • Matches
  • A lighter
  • Fire bricks
  • Pull Start Fire (you should use Pull Start Fire)
Pull. Start. Fire.


If you want to think not even a little bit, these are the perfect thing to use. Camping snobs with be snobby, but when you need a fire pronto because there’s a small child begging to know when dinner is (or that small child is your 25 yo significant other) this is what you’re going to want to use. We recommend Pull Start Fire mostly for the sheer cool factor. And the fact that if you fail to start a fire with this, you might be underwater.

You can buy it here: https://www.outwhere.co/product/pull-start-fire


How to manage a fire

This seems kinda simple right? Add sticks for more heat? Managing a fire is pretty easy but there are a couple tips and tricks to make things run smoother. First off don't dump a ton of stick on at once, you will get a uselessly hot fire in about 3 minutes. Add slowly to maintain or move to your desired heat range. Next, fire’s usually have “hotspots”. Yeah, i hear it too, but it's real as well as a really corny dad joke. If you are cooking on it, or just trying to get a little less hot fire, knock some sticks over and spread out the coals. This slows everything down a bit and makes it far more controllable. 


How to put out a fire

Water. I mean it's really that simple. You can also let it burn out, but if you need it GONE, dump some water on it. Do it slowly though, because it will put out a lot more fire if you pour slowly and stir the coals to move any moisture around the still lit coals. You can also pile dirt on top of your fire (in the absence of water) to starve it for oxygen. That said, it doesn't make anything colder, so you don't want to just pile dirt and then leave, because it has the highest forest fire potential compared to any other method.


How to clean up after a fire

If you’re using an existing fire pit, then you can pretty much leave the ashes in the fire pit. If you are backpacking in deep country, or out in the wilderness, the rule is leave no trace; so either dig a hole and bury the VERY EXTINGUISHED ashes or put them in a plastic bag and pack them out. Seriously, if you’re gonna leave ashes, you need to be able to put you hand on them. I usually just make a very soupy slurry, then i move my hand around inside and dig a bit. The water makes sure that you don’t burn your hand on any sneaky hot coals. 


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Author

John Neefus

Our CEO. Sometime comedian. Joker occasionally. Always hilarious.

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