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Starting a Fire

At a recent book presentation it was brought to my attention that one of the biggest question of survival novices is how do I start a fire. I have grown up living with nature and in homes that always had wood burning stoves or fire places. Starting a fire is something I have always known how to do and never really gave very much thought but having this question posed to me made me realize that many people don't have this very basic and important skill. Here is a rundown of the basics, ways you can start a fire in any weather, and great resources you can go to for more information.

Weather Concerns

Hot Climate:

Living in the dryness of California, wildfire is a very big concern. There are many reasons to have a fire even in a hot climate: cooking, security and warmth at night are just a few of them. You must make sure your fire is safe! Make sure the area around the fire is cleared of all debris. Keep your fire very small, in a fire pit and make certain that any overhead vegetation is a good distance away from your fire.

Wet Climate:

In a wet climate finding burnable material may be a challenge but understand it is available if you know how to obtain it. There is a method called coring whereby you take a good sized log and start removing all of the edges of the log that are damp. The inside of the log should still be dry and good for getting your fire rolling. To start the fire use a tinder that you carry with you (I'll explain more below) but if you don't have one, peal off the bark of a tree. The part that was connected to the tree should still be dry and you can flake it and roll it into a little nest in your palm for dry starting material.

Types of Material

The first thing you want to do when starting a fire is to gather the materials you will need. The info-graphic provided by is a great visual reference to what exactly tinder, kindling and fuel are. 


This is small, fire starting material. I talked earlier about taking some flaky bark and shredding it up into a little pile that looks like a next in the palm of your hand. When you place the nest on a log it makes an excellent place to catch a spark that you produce. Equip2Serve at has provided a great list of the top 10 tinders and starters, make sure you check that out.

There are many, many options available for making your tinder that can be easily made at home. One method that I prefer is taking some lint from the dryer and saturating it with Vaseline. Then you wrap it in tinfoil and voila, you have a mobile bunch of tinder that will burn for a while, giving you a chance to turn that flame into a fire.


The tinder is very important but the kindling is not to be underestimated.  Your little flame won't be able to start instantly ripping through huge logs. You need to form a coal bed to make that happen you need a stepping stone. Kindling are small pieces of wood that you start burning to accomplish that goal.


Fuel is the big, thick wood that you will burn through the night. Make sure it fits securely in your fire pit to avoid the flame coming down the branch and starting another unwanted fire.

You must gather an ample supply of each type before you make a spark! When you make a spark you will need tinder to catch it. When you catch your tinder on fire you will need kindling to make it grow. Kindling is fast burning so before too long you will need your long term fuel to keep it burning. If you stumble in any of these steps you will be back to square one.


My favorite way to light a fire is with a Bic lighter. I know it sounds simple but it really is. Bics are cheap, small and can easily be stocked everywhere you can think of. Even once the fluid runs out it still creates a great spark that you can catch on your tinder. Many people will discard them on trail and roads when they are out so you could even scavenge them in a survival situation. Just because it doesn't make a flame doesn't mean it's not useful. It uses flint and steal to make that flame same as a fire starting stick.

Equip2Serve has provided a great list of the top 10 initiation methods here. They also explain how to do each one on their website. An alternate site to go to is where they have a list of 23 ways to start a fire with really good instructions with photos on how to accomplish each one. 

I highly suggest you get out and practice the heck out of fire starting. It is much easier to learn when the weather is nice and it's for fun. Alternately it is very difficult to do in the rain and wind when your life is hanging in the balance. Plus you can always get the kids or friends out there, do up some smores, and sing Kum Ba Ya.

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