Originally published January 27 2015
How to build a fire in a winter survival situation
by Daniel Barker
(NaturalNews) Unless you live in the tropics, with no likelihood of ever needing a fire to keep you alive in a winter survival situation, you should learn the basics of building one.
And if you require an illustration of just how crucial fire-building skills can be in a sub-zero environment, read Jack London's masterful short story To Build a Fire. London's "chilling" (no pun intended) tale of a man in possession of a fair set of survival skills but who made what turned out to be a series of fatal miscalculations, was enough to inspire myself as a child to learn the basics of survival fire-building.
When I was a boy (and I'm giving away my advanced age in relating this) there was no such thing as a "survivalist" movement. However, those of us who grew up in a rural or semi-rural environment were normally taught survival skills which, sadly, are no longer commonly passed on to new generations. We were taught how to hunt, fish, build fires and survive -- even with a minimum of equipment and no fancy camping gear.
I think that's one of the reasons survivalism has come into fashion -- many people have realized the potential value of learning survival techniques that our ancestors considered to be essential knowledge. Skills that have been largely forgotten by the members of our modern society, who take creature comforts for granted and who probably wouldn't be able to survive more than a few days (or even hours) if the power were suddenly shut off.
Building a fire is one of the most basic survival techniques of all. A recent article by Philip Werner published at SectionHiker.com (which also happens to be accompanied by an excellent video on building a fire in winter conditions) points out that many "hiking, backpacking, or mountaineering courses" do not train participants in the art of fire-building.
Werner's theory is that instructors are reluctant to teach fire-building skills, because the practice goes against the "Leave No Trace" ethic. He argues that not knowing how to build a fire could lead to an expensive and unnecessary rescue operation that would leave a far greater footprint in the wilderness than a simple fire built for survival's sake.
That's a very good point, and it illustrates the fact that knowing how to build a fire can mean the difference between life and death -- especially in a SHTF situation where the hope of being rescued would not exist.
I highly recommend watching the video Werner posted on his site. It shows two simple and effective winter fire-building techniques -- one using lichen as tinder, the other using birch bark. It also provides the viewer with a basic understanding of the principles of winter fire-making in a wilderness situation.
Although the basics of winter fire-building reach beyond the scope of this article -- several thousand words could easily be written on the subject -- here are a few fundamental tips:
Choose the right location -- One of the fundamental mistakes made by the character in the Jack London story was building a fire beneath a tree. Once the fire is started, the snow in the branches will begin to melt and will probably dowse your fire. Look for a rock overhang, if possible.
Build a base -- Building a base underneath your fire is crucial in snowy or wet conditions. Lay some branches in parallel on the ground beneath your fire-starting materials. Dig beneath the snow to make a fire pit area big enough to contain your fire and your body.
Fire Building Materials - In snowy conditions, if there are trees around, there should be plenty of fuel. Use lichens, moss or bark as tinder to get the flame started, then add twigs and small branches (dead, not green, if possible), then gradually add larger branches. Look for birch bark and branches, which create a very hot flame.
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