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6 Steps to Mastering the Art of Fire Building

Be a Hero: Start a Fire.

10.18.17

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6 Steps to Mastering the Art of Fire Building

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The campfire, also referred to as hippy T.V., has built the foundation of most my best friendships. It is a place we gather to warm ourselves, eat, rest, tell stories, and relate to one another after a big day of adventuring. But have you ever struggled with getting it started? Maybe you haven't had the opportunity to build one at all? 

The primal art of fire building can only be cultivated with practice. Most of us modern-day citizens grow up completely disconnected from flames. Even if you did grow up building fires, does it go up first try? These days, the connection most of us have to fire is from seeing flames behind glass in "flip a switch" gas fireplaces and backyard grills.

As a full-time adventurer and cabin dweller who heats her home with wood, let me share some tips and tricks to mastering the art of fire building that even a kid can learn. "Kids learning to make fires, what?" Does that sound dangerous? Does your inner Smokey the Bear say WTF? 

Photo: besawyer.com

I think our utter disconnection to fire is the root of why we have so many accidental, human-caused, wildfires, and our ignorance is especially dangerous. By learning the caution, responsibility, and care involved when dealing with fire, you are setting yourself and your kids up for success. Refining a healthy respect for fire will translate to fewer accidents and injuries. You okay with that Smokey? Cool! 

Photo: besawyer.com 

Step 1: Foundation

What's your scene like?

  • No established fire pit? Build responsibly in areas that won't be easily scarred, and build fires that can be broken down to erase your presence later.
  • Ground wet? Lay down heavy amounts of grass and leaves to create air under the wet wood. Or, try a fire pan or blanket, especially if there is no established fire pit. 
  • Windy? Build a wind barrier with smaller rocks. Avoid using big overhung boulders because the smoke and flames will scar and the smoke will be drift right back in your face.  

Step 2: Fuel

What burnables do you have access to? 

  • Paper materials, especially paper grocery bags, make an excellent fire starter. 
  • The key is collecting smaller sticks or red and dead evergreen needles. The more small "kindling" you can collect, the better. 
  • Chopped firewood is nice, but it isn't always easy to come by in the backcountry. Get creative with breaking up bigger dead limbs (make sure they are dead) into smaller pieces that will fit in a fire ring. 

Step 3: Structure 

How's your placement? 

  • Tipi: Make a pile of pine needles and paper. Make a tipi around it with the smallest sticks. Progressively add larger sticks in a tipi shape. 
  • Log Cabin: Stack two pieces of wood lengthwise. Put all your paper, red needles, and small sticks between. Cris-cross logs over the top three to four layers. 
  • Either way, the key is oxygen. Keep enough spacing to allow air between larger pieces but enough proximity to catch the initial flame. 

Step 4: Flame

Whats your source?

  • Use matches, a lighter, or even a magnifying glass to light the paper and/or the red pine needles.

Step 5: Maintenance 

Keep it in the ring. 

  • Tend to the fire. Feed it, keep burning sticks inside, and don't breathe in too much smoke.
  • Roast your snacks and spend some time enjoying it together.

Step 6: Dousing

Ready to put it out? 

  • Douse the fire with water.
  • Stir the hot coals with a long stick until it's fully out. 
  • Dispose of or disperse the remnants responsibly by making it look like no one ever had a fire there (pack it in, pack it out) .  

Overall, building fires is an excellent life skill for you, your friends, and your children. Mastering the art takes practice, but it may become an opportunity to facilitate a relationship with nature. 

Fostering that sense of wonderment that comes so organically in kids is our mission at Sawyer, and we hope you take these skills into a life full of exploring. 

Photo: Backcountry Living

Cindi Lou Grant, 

The Sawyer Kid Co. 

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