I don’t think it is any secret that one of the attractions of camping for the the male of the species is building a campfire – bigger, better and brighter than anyone else’s in the campground. As the afternoon fades into evening you can see the men folk almost twitching to get started on the firewood scavenge – slitted eyes scanning the neighbourhood in search of that treasure chest of tinder and kindling. Unfortunately many people go about building a fire without proper preparation and often finish up with a smoking smouldering failure.
We all know that dry wood burns, but why? Know the fire triangle. The three sides of the fire triangle are fuel, heat, and oxygen or air. If you don’t have all three, you won’t have a fire. Perhaps more importantly is the knowledge that removing one of the sides of the triangle will extinguish a fire. Think of playing a fire hose on a fire. You are actually trashing the triangle – you are cooling it; smothering it, and you are also making any fuel pretty useless.
Anyway, now you have the basics, on to fire preparation. This post by the way is general in nature and a more specific post will be forthcoming in the near future.
Choose your spot for the fireplace. It should be at least ten feet away from any surrounding bush, with no tree branches overhead. Clear the space where you want to place the fire of all combustible materials for at least a yard or metre radius. To contain the fire more so, dig a shallow depression for the fire pit and surround that with a circle of dry rocks (wet porous rocks can explode when heated – nasty!). The fire pit should be about two feet or 600mm in diameter depending on your need and preference of course.
Now you need to collect your fuel, and arrange three nice piles of tinder, kindling, and fuel wood away from the fire pit.
There are many views on whether a good fire should resemble a tepee or log cabin or whatever. It doesn’t really matter as long as you provide a ready supply of fuel for the fire, and the means to supply lots of air, and the fire is allowed to ignite and burn in a controlled manner.
Tinder is usually easily combustible material and may be newspaper , dry leaves and small dry twigs, or anything else that will readily ignite. This should be placed in the fire-pit first in a neat pile.
Kindling will be the next to burn, ignited by the burning tinder. This should again be dry twigs of wood about finger or thumb thickness and about a foot or more long. You will need a fair amount of this. This should initially be placed around the tinder in a tepee like fashion. Construct a substantial tepee, remembering to leave an upwind space for you to light the tinder.
The fuel wood you can either form a log cabin type of construction around the teepee of kindling, or add another teepee of the fuel wood around the kindling teepee. Either way, make sure you have a space to light the fire and that the fire will have lots of air to draw on.
When you have reached this far you can light the tinder. Now we are not playing bush-craft here. We are here to build a better fire than Joe next door; so no flints or bows or pointed sticks, just take a common household match – or better still a butane lighter, and light the tinder.
As the fire starts to burn you can add more kindling to feed it until the fuel wood starts to burn. The all you have to do is to maintain the fuel and air supply.
It is now time to draw up your chair, pour a glass of wine and watch the floor show as your neighbours try to emulate your success!
Safe and warm camping. . . and don’t forget to put the fire out properly afterwards – always use water to completely douse it. Then stir the ashes and douse again with water. Repeat until you are sure the fire is dead.