Fire

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Fire is one of the most basic elements of human survival throughout the centuries, and it will usually play an important role in almost any of the conventional "lost in the woods" survival scenarios.  Having a fire at night can literally make the difference between life and death - especially for those of us who have grown accustomed to civilized comforts.  

Civilized man is most often not used to the brutal moods of nature and when out in the wilds, cold and dampness can conspire to attack your immune system or kill you outright through hypothermia. 

Some basic issues of safety, fire is dangerous, and many survival fires have turned into disastrous forest fires from the days of the cave man.   Most people are smart enough to keep from being burned by a camp fire, but there is danger in other things catching on fire, even your clothes.   You need to be particularly careful when wearing some of the modern synthetics because they can be quickly damaged by contact with flame.   Many ghillie suits are not very flame retardant, and can light on fire very easily.    You generally want to size your fire to your lighting and heating needs.   You can enhance the fire a few ways, some of which are in the picture above.    A reflector helps direct heat toward you, and will help make the most of a smaller fire.   It also helps make the fire burn hotter, and dry out green or wet wood faster.    Rocks, metal or other kinds of things that will retain heat will help keep a  fire contained, and even out the warmth that it will provide.   Without such things to regulate the temperature of a fire in cold weather, you can end up with a harsh situation where you are either too far away (and cold) or too close and you risk getting burned.    This is partly because the flames alone only make radiant heat, and you need some mass to make inductive heat.   The drier the air, the less heat induction you get in the air, and the more important it will be to use things like rocks and a reflector on the fire.  

In my good old buy scout days, we learned the most effective way to get a fire going fast was to use a small container of gasoline, some cardboard, and of course the wood.   Obviously, the survivalist purists like more of a challenge, so at one of our recent survival campouts, our west coast primitive survival expert decided to teach us how to make fire without any such modern conveniences.  

Obviously, your survival fire is going to need three elements of fuel to get going.   Tinder, kindling and fuel, in that order.   If you are lucky, you have a catalyst,  like matches, a lighter and maybe some gasoline.   Back to tinder; this is the stuff that burns easily, but does not burn very hot and burns out quickly.   A tinder fire is not good for much other than getting other fires going.   Then you have kindling, which is light wood, heavy cardboard and things which will produce some heat.   In some cases, people will only make kindling fires for the short term.   Lastly, is the fuel, bigger chunks of wood, coal or other flammable solids that will produce longer lasting hot coals and a healthy flame.   Once you get the fuel going, you should not have to fight very hard to keep the fire warm.   

Probably the fastest and most clever primitive firemaking method is the bow drill.   All of the "rubbing two sticks together" methods work - eventually, but the bow drill is probably the fastest among them.  The only real crutch to it is having some string of some sort, but again, the primitive survivor is likely to have some sort of cordage, and just about any cordage will work.   For the military survivor, this will likely be a boot lace.   Another method, more expedient when you are really lacking resources, is the hand drill.   You basically need a piece of wood for a low tension bow, some string, a piece of hardwood for the drill, and some other wood for the drill board.   You will want to use your trusty knife to cut a notch in the drill board to get things started, or the drill will just skip around across the board.   You will also probably want something to put under the board to catch the glowing embers that come off in the process.   A piece of leather is traditional, but just about any not so flammable cloth will work.  Even a piece of newspaper or cardboard can be good for this.  

Ok, the art of this is a little bit more tricky than it looks.   The drill works on the friction theory.   The idea is to focus the energy of the drilling motion in a spot on the wood so much that you get a little ember going in it.   At the same time, with all of this movement going on, you want little or no friction elsewhere, except on the string so that the string keeps spinning the drill.    You have a capping device in your palm for the top of the drill to work in.  Traditionally, this is a piece of antler with a pocket in it to hold the top of the wooden drill rod.   Improvised objects include bottle caps, a shot glass, or even pieces of metal or glass wreckage.   Plastic does not work so well for this.  

After hopefully less than five minutes of spinning the drill in your notched drill board, the drill will be knocking off some powdered charred wood that starts to smoke and burn little embers like incense.   Don't expect to ever get a flame this way, only the key to the flame.  What you need to do next is transfer the little ember to your tinder bundle, which in this case was some dried grassy stuff.    The finer and drier this tinder bundle is, the better off you will be.   The art here is to blow on the ember just enough to get it to grow in the tinder bundle, without blowing it out, and then get it to burst into flames.   These flames are actually not very hot at first, hence the person in the picture is pretty easily holding the tinder bundle as it starts to flame up.   This is the magic moment, - you have made fire.    Now the trick is to quickly but carefully stuff the tinder bundle into your kindling at the bottom of your prepared fire.   While the initial flames are not hot enough to burn you, they will very quickly get hot enough to singe your fingers, so you need to act quickly.