Essentials of Fire
Fire-making is an essential skill for surviving the outdoors. It's not only for roasting marshmallows and hotdogs - it is a source of heat to prevent hypothermia, is essential for boiling / sterilizing water, and of course for cooking.
Equally essential is proper fire management and responsible use. Always keep your fire under control, and ensure it is completely extinguished when unattended.
- Fire Steel
- Lighter / Matches
- Tinder - fine fiber-like and flammable materials that will easily take a spark or ignite under friction.
- "Grandfather's Beard" (Usnea fungus), dry grasses, bark strands, pine sap
- Kindling - small sticks or materials no thicker than a finger that ignite relatively easily from burning tinder. Kindling is the bases for a good fire.
- Sticks, thin branches, reeds, pine cones
- "Wrist wood" fuel - small branches and split logs are the fuel of a good fire. Slow-burning woods can last for hours.
- Split Wood - This is the typical fuel source of a campfire. If you have the means to split and chop wood, try to use pieces no thicker than your knee.
- Logs - Downed, uncut logs can be a long-lasting fuel source, but are difficult to extinguish and can quickly get out of control. These are recommended only in survival situations.
NB: Never cut live trees for your fire. It is illegal in parks and protected areas, and green wood does not burn well.
Choosing a site
- In campgrounds or recreational areas, use the designated stoves, rings, or fire pits. They are designed to keep fires from spreading and are the best choice for a safe campfire.
- When outside of a campground, use sites that are clear of dry grass, bushes, leaves, branches, tree trunks, peat moss, and overhanging branches. If the site has already been used for a campfire, use the same site.
- Build your campfires on level ground that is sheltered from wind.
- If you can’t build your fire near a water source, have a large container of water nearby to keep your campfire under control. When you are done, fully extinguish it by soaking it, stirring it, and soaking it again.
Building Your Fire
First, prepare your site by clearing a 1 m (36 in) radial area of dead foliage and flammable material. The base for your fire should be sand or gravel. Dig a shallow trench in the centre of the cleared area as a wind-break. Alternately, you can build a fire-ring of rocks being mindful not to use rocks gathered from near moving water or mineral-rich areas as these rocks can explode.
Once your site is prepared, use your smallest tinder materials to begin your fire as these will ignite the easiest. Add increasingly-larger materials as the fire takes. Once the fire is established, add split wood arranged in a teepee formation.
Extinguishing Your Fire1
Soak It. Stir It. Soak It Again.
- Let the fire burn down before you plan on putting it out. Spread the embers within the fire pit, then add water or loose dirt, and stir.
- Expose any material still burning. Add more water and stir again until you can no longer see smoke or steam. Do not bury your fire as the embers may continue to smoulder and can re-emerge as a wildfire.
- Repeat until your campfire is cool to the touch.
- If your fire is out, you should not be able to feel any heat from the ashes.
1 Government of Alberta. Alberta Wildfire: Campfire Safety.