The Fire Structure
(As featured in the June 2007 issue of Practically Seeking)How big a fire do you need to keep warm?
How about one small enough to fit under your blanket with you?
Here are some principles to keep in mind when building a proper fire structure:
The Fire Triangle (Heat, Fuel, Oxygen)
- Each side of the triangle needs to be in balance for proper combustion to occur.
- If you are getting incomplete combustion (smoke) one side is out of balance.
Each layer serves to ignite the next:
- Be reverent in constructing your fire, always doing your best to build it perfectly, rather than just throwing a bunch of sticks together is so often done.
Tips & Tricks for a Better Fire
- To keep smoke to a minimum use small diameter, bone-dry wood and remove the bark.
- Never collect firewood off the ground. Instead, look for standing dead wood.
- In damp conditions, look for dryer combustibles on the branches of brush in sunny areas.
- Place a couple of stones near (not in) your fire until they are just hot enough that you cannot pick them up bare handed. Wrap them in a sock or other insulation and place them under your clothing or in your sleeping bag or shelter to keep warm.
- Adding a reflecting wall can make your fire far more efficient through the radiation of heat. By keeping yourself between your fire and the reflecting wall you will stay far warmer with a much smaller fire.
Step-by-step instructions for building a proper fire:
- Collect your firewood and sort it into piles based on diameter, starting with toothpick and working up to wrist-sized. Make each larger diameter a couple of inches longer than the last so you will end up with a perfectly conical structure. All wood should be dead and dry, and snap easily and cleanly. You will also need to collect enough dry, fibrous material (such as cedar inner-bark, dry grass or pine needles) for an apple-sized tinder bundle and a tinder blanket of (approximately) 4x6 inches.
- Select a well-drained area of ground and excavate a shallow, sloping depression about twice the diameter of the future structure, and only a couple of inches deep. Place three thumb-diameter sticks in the ground to form a pyramid, about half the height you want your finished structure to be. If you plan to light your fire by friction, your doorway should be facing the prevailing wind, whereas if you have a single match, face that opening to the leeward side.
- Place a row of thumb-diameter sticks on the ground within your pyramid with the ends facing the doorway, with another layer on top of that, perpendicular to the first. This will keep your tinder bundle off the ground as well as provide good air flow for combustion.
- Working clockwise from your doorway, lay a few of your pinky-diameter sticks into your pyramid base. This will serve to support the next layer -- the tinder blanket.
- Create a loose blanket of dry, fibrous material and drape it over your pyramid, starting at one side of the doorway, all the way around and back to the other side of the door. It should resemble the covering of a teepee, but be light and airy.
- Starting at the door and working clockwise, place several layers of your thinnest material on top of your tinder blanket. Repeat this process, using progressively larger diameter sticks for each layer, until your desired size is reached. Save a few sticks of each size to close your doorway after ignition.
- Ignite your tinder bundle and place it in the opening. Once the initial layer begins to light, use the sticks you have set aside to close the doorway opening. Now get those marshmallows ready!
The Scout Fire
Like the student in the photo I have spent several nights in cold weather with just a blanket and a fire smaller than a peach, and remained more than adequately warm.
You can learn more about how to build this virtually invisible fire at our upcoming Fire by Friction workshop.
(REMEMBER that Fire is Dangerous! Please do not try to construct the Scout Fire yourself without proper instruction. You could be seriously injured, and we don't want that!)