Fire for Disaster Preparedness
Fire, while it’s one of three essentials of life (Water, Fire & Shelter) it’s also so much more. In a disaster scenario, it keeps us warm, purifies our water, cooks our food and signals for help/rescue. But fire also provides us with a sense security and comfort that touches us at almost a primordial level. Yup, having a fire sure makes just about anything a bit more tolerable. Don’t think fire is all that important? Ok, next time you go camping, skip the campfire and s’mores. Let me know how that works for you.
Fire is an important component of any emergency/disaster scenario. Unfortunately, many people have trouble properly constructing a fire under normal, stress free conditions let alone when it could mean life or death. Not to mention, that a vast majority of folks are completely unable to get a fire going without the use of matches or a lighter. Being able to reliably construct fire under less than perfect conditions requires practice and a firm understanding of fire basics, how to lay a fire and finally, how to light a fire.
Fire Basics: The first thing to understand is that fire is a byproduct of the chemical reaction between fuel, heat and oxygen (air). We call this relationship of fuel, heat and air the Fire Triangle. If any one component of the Fire Triangle is out of proportion with the other components, you will not produce a useful fire. It is important to remember and understand the Fire Triangle so that you can properly troubleshoot failed fire construction attempts. Another important factor in producing a useful fire is proper site selection. The area that you choose to build your fire should be flat & level, near your shelter (if applicable) and should offer the fire some protection from the elements (rain, high winds, etc.). Also, whenever possible, you should construct your fire in an area that provides an ample supply of fuel. Before you build your fire you will often need to prepare the site to optimize your fire’s benefits. You should clear the spot for your fire and the area around it of all organic material down to the mineral soil. If possible, digging a shallow pit to place your fire or ringing your fire with large rocks is an appropriate safety measure to help contain your fire. If you must build your fire on wet, soggy or snow covered ground you will need to use a fire platform. A fire platform is simply a layer of small (2-4 inches in diameter) sized logs that protect your fire from the moisture on the ground. Also depending on your shelter construction or wind conditions, you may choose to utilize a fire reflector. A fire reflector is a wall of logs or rocks that is constructed on one side of your fire to either direct the fire’s heat towards your shelter or to shield your fire from the predominate winds. The last thing that you need to understand is the different fire building materials. There are three classes of fire material, tinder, kindling and fuel. Tinder is material that can be ignited by a match, frictional heat or a simple spark. Tinder can either be natural (fine wood material, grasses, dried moss, etc) or manmade (lint, paper, steel wool, etc). Kindling is small (< 1 inch in diameter) sticks that can be easily burned by the flame/heat produced from your tinder. Fuel is any branches or logs that are larger than 1 inch in diameter. Fuel requires substantial exposure to heat/open flame to ignite and burn. When you are selecting and applying the various classes of fire material, it is important to remember the Fire Triangle. If you are not getting a good, productive flame from your fire, you’re doing something wrong.
Laying a Fire: Laying a fire is simply the manner in which you use available fire material to build your fire. There are two basic lays when constructing a fire, the pyramid and the tepee. The pyramid (or log cabin) has alternating, perpendicular layers of fire material that tapper in size with each layer. The end result is a stack of fuel that (slightly) resembles a pyramid or log cabin. This particular type of lay is ideal for mild to severe weather conditions and is an excellent lay to produce a cooking fire. The main drawbacks to using the pyramid lay is that it has a rather larger fuel requirement and takes longer to get going when compared to other lays. The tepee lay is a construction option when you need a rapid source of heat or you will not be staying long in that particular location. The tepee lay also has a much smaller fuel requirement when compared to a pyramid lay. The real draw back to a tepee lay is that it is better suited to mild weather conditions and can be difficult to manage in strong winds or rain.
Lighting a Fire: The lighting of a fire, or rather the igniting of your tinder is the moment of truth for many people. There are numerous methods with which to ignite your fire. Obviously, matches and lighters are the easiest means, but matches get wet and lighters run out of fuel so you had better have a plan B……and a plan C! A steel match or magnesium strip can be a very handy method to ignite your tinder bundle. Basically a steel match produces a simple spark to ignite your tender, while a magnesium strip uses shaved magnesium that burns extremely hot (up to 3100 °C) when exposed to a spark. This intense flame is then used to ignite your tender bundle. Frictional devices are a very primitive means to light your fire. Examples of frictional devices are a fire drill or a fire plow. A fire drill uses a bow or the hands to spin a hardwood dowel on a softer piece of wood to produce smoldering coals which are then added to your tinder bundle. The fire plow uses similar means to produce smoldering coals, but the hardwood dowel or stick is rubbed vigorously back & forth until coals appear (Remember the fire scene in Castaway? That’s a fire plow). Another often overlooked means of lighting a fire is with the use of electricity. Did you know that “0000” extra fine steel wool will ignite when it comes into contact with an electrical current? All you have to do is fray out a portion of the steel wool, then touch it to both the positive (+) and negative (-) terminals of a battery. You can use a couple of “C” cell batteries, a nine volt battery or even a cell phone battery. DO NOT TOUCH IT TO A 110 or 220 VOLT SOURCE! You won’t be needing a fire any longer if you do. Once the steel wool starts to glow, place it into your tender bundle and gently blow on it until your bundle ignites. Whichever means you use to light your fire, once your tinder bundle is burning, place it in the middle of a small kindling stack and continue to add kindling (remember the Fire Triangle) until you have a strong, persistent flame. When you get to this point you’re doing pretty well and it’s time to add your fuel utilizing whichever fire lay you selected.
There you go…..fire building 101. Now get out there and practice those skills, just try not to set your pants on fire in the process. Now, where did I put those s’mores supplies?
Instructor William Green
Elite Training Center
1601 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 170
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
Fire for Disaster Preparedness
Fire for Disaster Preparedness