Basic survival skills should be understood, practiced and references placed in your preparedness binder. If you have not completed, or even started your binder get out your April Totally Ready Newsletter and do it now! Survival skills are not just for an end of the world scenario but for use when stranded or lost or because your car has failed you. They will help you survive and thrive in the aftermath of an earthquake, hurricane, tornado or many other natural disasters.
Our first survival skill is Fire Building. Knowing how to build a fire is one of the most important survival skills you can learn. A properly constructed fire can literally save your life. It can provide warmth, light, a source for melting snow or purifying water. It can provide a protection from animals as they will rarely approach a fire. It can be a way to signal rescuers as they observe the smoke.
Every fire needs three things, a fuel source, a heat source, such as a match, and oxygen. Removing any of these will prevent your fire from igniting or limit the amount of time it will burn.
There are several easy ignition sources at least two of which you should carry in your car kits and 5 day kits (formerly 72 hour kits). Good ignition soures include, matches, chemical lighters, gasoline, fire steel, batteries and steel wool, and even the cigarette lighter in your car. In a pinch when you have sun, your prescription eye glasses or a magnifying glass can be used to create the heat source.
Next you will need three types of fuel.
Tinder: Tinder is a material which catches fire quickly and easily and burns hot, although not for long. Igniting tinder and placing it near your larger kindling helps you to ignite the kindling. Tinder can be:
Dryer lint. Pack a toilet paper roll with dryer lint. When you’re ready for a fire, pile kindling around a few lint roll. Light the center of the cardboard roll (exterior) and it will catch the kindling on fire. These are virtually free, small, and light weight, and thus are great to keep in your auto and 5 day kits.
Pine needles, pinecones, leaves, twigs. Select only dry, not green, specimens. Pile onto the fire a little at a time in the center of your kindling teepee until kindling ignites.
Bark. Save and dry small pieces of tree bark. Bark catches fire quickly and will maintain embers for a long time. Do not strip bark from a living tree. It will not burn well and may kill the tree.
Whatever is on hand. Newspaper, store receipts, even your check book. Get the lipstick, chapstick, or vaseline out of your kits or purse and rub on items first. This will prolong the amount of time the items will burn.
A flame. A Tuna can “stove” ( direction in your October 2009 Totally Ready Newsletter) or a candle is also a great fire starter. You simply light and place kindling in a teepee fashion over the flame and allow the kindling to burn until it is hot enough to ignite your primary fuel.
Kindling: Kindling is larger and more dense than tinder and will burn hotter and longer. Kindling is used as the ignition for your final, largest, fuel, usually wood. Kindling includes, larger branches, scrap lumber, cardboard and rolled up newspaper.
A primary fuel source is larger, burns more slowly and steadily than the kindling, and produces greater heat. It will also create a bed of coals that will continue to give off heat and provide the heat source to continue your fire. Primary fuels are wood, large pieces of lumber, coal, or tightly rolled newspaper.
Once the fire is burning well, simply add more fuel whenever needed to keep the fire going. Green or wet fuel should not be used until the fire is burning well. The fire’s heat will dry and ignite the wet wood as it dries. Green wood will burn more slowly and may provide a greater amount of hot coals, but it takes more effort to get it started.
Be aware that the biggest mistake when building a fire is not allowing for enough air circulation to provide the needed oxygen to keep a fire burning.
Before building a fire clear the ground of any flammable materials which may be ignited by a spark. If it is raining, snowing or it is threatening to do so you will need to build your fire in a protected area such as under a rock outcropping. If this is not possible move under a group of trees which have their foliage well off the ground. If you have a tarp and can put a tarp up, make sure the tarp is at least five feet about the flames and the area is well ventilated.
You will also need to protect your fire from the wind. A good way to do this, other than a natural barrier such as rocks or trees, is to construct a barrier from logs, blankets, tarps, anything you can use to create a small wall to block the gusts.
Another great answer to protecting your fire from the wind is building an X fire pit. Dig a trench in the shape of an x at least 6 inches wide and 8-10 inches deep. Place tinder in the center of the X. Add kindling until you have a good fire burning. Add your primary fuel. The coals which will form will below ground, thus protecting the fire. The arms of the X will provide air flow.
If you are building a fire in the snow, place logs under your tinder and begin the process of building a fire, tinder, kindling and then your primary fuel. The wood beneath will allow the tinder and kindling to do their jobs by protecting them from the moisture. By the time the platform begins to burn your fire will be hot enough to keep it going.
A teepee fire can be built by placing tinder on the ground.
Next lean kindling loosely over the tinder. Finally, place your primary fuel source, logs, wooden boards, etc. leaning against each other to form a teepee shape. Carefully light the tinder. It will ignite the kindling and then the logs. Don’t skimp on the kindling.
A log cabin fire is built by placing tinder on the ground with kindling on top. Next place logs all the way around as though they were the four walls of a cabin. Add logs as you would if building a cabin. One on the north and south, the next on the east and west using the first layer to stack, than back to the north and south, and so on. Your tinder and kindling fire needs to be large enough to catch the oouter logs on fire.
A fire is critical to survival during an emergency situation. Now is a great time to practice when camping of just hanging out in the backyard. If you don’t have a great place to practice fire building purchase a fire pit and use that as the base for your fire. Children love to start a fire using a magnifying glass. Help them to learn how to safely build a fire just in case they are stranded without you around. Begin now. Practice makes perfect.