Fire! Its amazes us, it keeps us warm, lets us cook and sometimes terrifies us.
Just imagine the feeling that early homo-erectus ‘pre-humans’ got when they encountered fire for the first time. What feelings would that have caused them to have? I can only imagine that they must have been terrified at first and then slowly started to be amazed by it and once they learned how to control it were satisfied and delighted with their discovery.
There are many ancient stories about how fire came to earth but my favourite is the “the myth of Prometheus”.
Prometheus was one of the Titans; the titans were a group fighting against Zeus in the famous battle of Titans. He was not directly involved in the war and Zeus decided not to abolish Prometheus and instead gave him a mission. The mission was to create man from water and earth. Prometheus accomplished this task while at the same time becoming very fond of man. Zeus didn’t want man to have any special powers but Prometheus disagreed, so he stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. You can read all about it here.
So we all know that fire has been around for millions of year’s right? It is the combination of oxygen and fuel, therefore since the advent of oxygen on this planet there has been fire. I’m sure the dinosaurs saw lightning striking trees which caused forest fires and were just as amazed by it as we are today.
Fire is one of the world’s most important elements and is essential for survival. It is great for warmth, cooking and entertainment. It is important that if you are going to create a fire while out camping that you know how to do it correctly with as little impact to the environment as possible. The following guide will teach you how to build, ignite and extinguish a fire in a safe and controlled manner while taking the principles of Leave no Trace into account. So let’s get started……
Steps to creating a campfire
- Understanding the principles of leave no trace concerning fire.
- Gathering your materials.
- Picking the right location.
- Building the fire.
Step 1 – Understanding the principles of leave no trace concerning fire
You should always build your fire with Leave no Trace principles in mind. With any fire that you build there will be an impact to the area but you should do everything you can to minimize the impact. The following principles should be followed:
- If in the area you are camping there is already a fire ring then use it.
- If there is no fire ring then do not make one, instead build a mound fire.
- Make sure and build a small fire, over sized fires are hard to handle.
- Make sure and burn all fuel until it turns to ash, stop adding fuel to the fire well before you intend going to bed or before you leave on a hike to allow enough time for the fire to burn itself out.
- Gathering firewood:
- Hike away from your campsite to collect wood.
- Leave larger logs and limbs to decompose back into the soil.
- Use wood that is smaller than an adult’s wrist. You should be able to break this by hand.
- Use wood that has fallen from the trees, do not cut down or pull fuel from live trees.
- Cleaning up after yourself:
- Take the unused fire wood and scatter is around as naturally as possible.
- Push un-burned ends of the wood into the fire so all of it is turned to ash.
- When the coals have burnt to ash, pour water all over the ash making sure that every part is cold and wet, check for any steam or heat. Use water rather than soil to put the fire out.
- Collect the cold ash and scatter it over a large area far away from the campsite.
Fires that are built directly on top of the ground overheat the top layer of soil and kill anything living in that layer of soil. In order to stop this we build what is known as a mound fire.
Step 2 – Gathering your materials
To burn and sustain a successful fire you will need to following materials.
Consists small twigs, dry leaves, pine needles, newspaper or even pre-made tinder like cotton wool soaked in Vaseline. Tinder is used as an ignition source for your kindling.
Kindling doesn’t usually ignite easily enough to be started from your ignition source but but it will ignite if placed above burning tinder. Consists of small dry sticks/twigs usually less than one inch thick. The bark off a birch tree is also great for Kindling and also tinder if shaved. It also has a number of other uses, check out this video from Forrester Bushcraft to learn about the birch tree.
Consists of larger pieces of wood usually the width of a human wrist.
This is to put the fire out once it has been burnt to ash.
Matches, lighter or another fire starter for example a magnesium fire starter.
Step 3 – Picking the right location
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, ready? Fire is dangerous. By starting a fire in the wrong location you risk a number of things including starting a forest fire. Fires grow quickly so you need to pick a location where the likelihood of this happening is very slim.
Think about wind direction, if you are in a valley then you are going to know the direction of the wind and ultimately the direction of the smoke.
Don’t have a campfire in a wooded area, I think this is pretty self explanatory.
Fire can cause a huge amount of damage and you need to be very alert to the dangers and possible disaster scenarios, so pick the right location and don’t risk it.
Step 4 – Building the fire
Basically a mound fire is a fire built on top a layer of mineral soil. Mineral soil is found underneath the rich, organic top layer. Mineral soil, sand or gravel do not have the same organic life as top soil so a fire on this material is not an issue.
Steps for building a mound fire:
- Use a trowel to gather sand or mineral soil into a bag. A good place to look for mineral soil is at the base of a felled tree.
- Lay a ground cloth on the area where you intend to have the fire; this makes the cleanup much easier. Use a heavy cloth or tarp.
- Get your bag of sand or mineral soil and pour its contents onto the ground cloth. Flatten the top of the mound so that you have about 4 inch thickness between the ground cloth and the top of the mound. Now you have a base for your fire.
- Place your tinder in the middle of the mound.
- Now use the kindling to form a tepee around the tinder. Make sure and leave enough space between your kindling to allow airflow.
- Ignite the tinder and the kindling should catch fire.
- Keep adding kindling to your fire, stacking extra around your tepee.
- After the tepee has collapsed in on itself and you have a nice pile of red coals you can lay down your smaller fuel. Make sure the fuel wood has access to both the flames and outside air. Make sure and not add fuel to your fire too quickly as you are in danger of smothering it.
- Always keep watching your fire, don’t relax too much as you need to be ready in an emergency, i.e. it starts to go out or a spark ignites leaves beside you fire (which shouldn’t have been there in the first place).
- For instructions on how to clean up please refer to step one and how to clean up taking into account the principles of leave no trace.
Make sure that before you even think about building a campfire you have researched the fire regulations for the country you live in.
Where I live I used to be able to apply for a permit to have a campfire while wildcamping, this is no longer the case as my area has been ravaged by wild fires the past few years.
There are special areas I can camp with fire rings. You should do due diligence and make sure you are following the rules of your country.
So there you have it, we have covered how to pick the right location for your fire, what materials you need, how to build and clean up your fire while all the time following the principles of leave no trace.
So tell us what you think of this post, is there anything we have left out? How do you build your campfire? Let us know what the regulations are in your country. Leave a comment below…