How to Start a Fire - Lewis N. Clark
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How to Start a Fire

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It can be intimidating to start a fire if you didn't learn how to when you were growing up, but with some patience, practice, and perhaps a little assistance from modern fire-starting products, you can create your own fire as well.

Getting Started

If you’re at a campsite, they’ll likely have a fire pit or fire ring for you to start your fire. At the very least, most will have a circle of large rocks so you can try to keep the fire contained.

Ideally, it won’t have rained the night before and you’ll have dry ground and wood to work with. However, depending on the length of time and the intensity of the rain, you may have to buy pre-chopped kindling.

Assuming you have dry materials to work with, you can gather leaves and small twigs to use as kindling. (However, try to refrain from this if these are scarce in the area.)

Building the Fire

With the leaves as the base (or a fire starter if you have one), build a teepee-shaped structure with the twigs. Once you have enough support, stack larger branches around these.

Side note: It’s usually a good idea to buy logs from nearby farms, stores, or the campground itself. Wood from other areas can carry pests that have not been introduced to the local ecosystem. We have seen devastating results from this in the form of emerald ash borer and others insects.

Use a long-stemmed lighter so you can reach the base of the fire and hold the flame there in case the kindling has trouble catching fire (this is often the case if it’s windy or if it has been raining). It makes it easier if you keep your lighter, fire starter, cooking utensils, and other gear organized in a packing tube so you have everything in one place.

When you see a few embers, you can use a roasting fork to move them around so the flame has enough oxygen to catch onto the twigs and branches.

Keeping it Going

After the fire has moved onto the branches and logs, slowly and carefully add more logs to your existing teepee structure. You want to keep your hands away from the flames, but you should also not suddenly drop the logs into the fire in case the base or middle have been burned away. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to rebuild your structure with an active fire.

Keep adding logs as the others turn to ash. Once you’re done, dump water on the fire to make sure the embers are completely out if you don’t have a high and reinforced fire ring (and you’re not planning to use it again soon). They can smolder long after the last log has burned away.

Side note: Although you can often burn things like paper or food without consequence, burning wrappers, water bottles or other plastics, aluminum cans, and similar items release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and should be avoided.

Back-up

Even if you don’t get the fire to catch the first or second time, keep trying. The important thing is not to rush through the process (like trying to set the logs on the flames directly). However, if all else fails, it’s always a wise idea to bring a camp stove so you can cook dinner without being totally dependent on a roaring fire.

If you’re new to camping, be sure to read our other tips for more helpful information.