Fire can be a beautiful thing to behold; knowing how to make fire is an essential skill that kick-started the next phase of human evolution, and it’s been keeping us alive ever since. As majestic as it is, fire is equally dangerous and will become deadly if unprepared. Fire can cross your path in several forms: As a way to create warmth; to send a signal; to prepare food and boil water; it can be as simple as lighting a cigarette or a campfire, or you can be faced with the wrong end of a ranging forest fire.
Here’s what you should know about fire…
The three elements of fire.
This is basic high school science, yet something a lot of people discard when in an emergency. Fire needs heat, fuel and an oxidizing agent to burn. This is known as the Fire Triangle, and it’s vital when you’re making a fire or trying to kill one. (Fire needs 16% oxygen to burn; the air around us contains approximately 21%).
Have a fire starter kit.
Fire starter kits are cheap and there are thousands available for order on the internet; take a look at some of the options on Amazon.com and make sure that you have one as part of your survival kit. You’d rather have it and not need it, right?
If you make your own fire starters, do it carefully.
Many frugal survivalists prefer to make their own fire starter kits at home instead of buying them. That’s great, as long as you do it safely. (One of the most disastrous examples I’ve seen was an enthusiast who made his own portable kit in a small tin, then placed it next to the fire: It heated up, and the results should be relatively obvious. Store combustibles safely. It’s fire. Be careful).
Don’t rely on matches.
Matches are a go-to for many avid campers, but it could also be their biggest mistake. Yes, there are ways to light wet matches – take a look at this article on WikiHow to see how – but that is not a chance you can afford to take when it’s your survival being put at risk. You’ll very likely be safer with a flint fire starter kit.
Certain woods are poisonous when burned.
Know how to identify different types of woods, and know which are poisonous when burned. Novice fire starters often collect any wood they can find for their fire, only to be told by the locals later that they should have stayed away from it – or, in the worst-case scenario, serious illness or death occurs. Some include Elder wood, poison Sumac, and poison oak. Illness or death can occur from fumes, and any food prepared over a poison-wood fire could kill you.
Know how to treat a burn.
Common remedies for treating a burn include the application of some sort of fat or oil: Mayonnaise, butter, cooking oil or margarine. DON’T. This literally adds fuel to the burn, and it can lead to anything from infection to grilling your burn wound like a steak. Emergency guides generally recommend immediate cooling of the burn until help can be found – cold, sterile water. Have burn gel as part of your emergency kit, always.
Putting out fires are different.
Depending on what kind of fire you’re looking at, the way you put it out differs. Never grab the nearest thing and throw it on the fire; in many cases, that’s going to be an accelerant like alcohol, petrol or paraffin. (Also, never pour water on an oil fire. You’ll turn a fire into an inferno). Have a fire extinguisher handy, and keep baking soda and sand nearby. Remember how fire has three elements? Remove its oxygen.
Don’t forget smoke inhalation.
In most house and forest fires, the cause of death isn’t being burned alive, but smoke inhalation. Symptoms can include a dry cough, dizziness, nausea and potentially coughing up blood. Go down, because heat travels upwards and smoke tends to be less dense at the bottom. Fire can also be dangerous in other ways, like falling debris and burning embers.
Burnt food is carcinogenic; keep an eye on that fire!
Hone your barbeque skills at home when you’re not in a survival situation: Learn the tricks behind fish versus chicken versus beef; you can even bake on an open fire if you know how. Keep in mind that when food burns, acrylamide forms – this is a carcinogenic and obviously dangerous to your health.
Putting out camp and food fires are essential.
Put simply and in the words of an anthropomorphic bear, only you can prevent forest fires. Always make sure your fire is properly extinguished (and a fire that looks dead isn’t always), never leave a fire unattended and don’t put your tents, sleeping bags, gear or combustibles too close to the fire. Sand is your best friend for putting out smaller fires, so always keep a bucket or two nearby.
Send us your best fire starting tips for in the field (or at home) through the comments.