Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Start a Campfire

Backroads Information--How to Start a Fire

When I became a Professional Forester there were three things the public expected from you.  First....That you know the name of every tree.  Second...Never get lost in the woods.  Third....Know how to start a fire.
Of course, on my first professional job the first "request" my employer had was to rewrite a computer program that checked tree measurements!!!

I was working for the Forest Service inspecting a campground after a rainy night and a lady walked up to us and asked how to start a fire.  I almost started laughing out loud when the District Ranger pulled a small can of lighter fluid from his pocket and said "I use this".

I generally pass on campfires.  Watching the cost of a forest fire over several days will do that to you.  Fires are dangerous in dry, summer conditions and they take much more effort to get DEAD OUT than most people realize.

However, if your determined to have a fire the question becomes do you want to start a fire via the Boy Scout method, or just use lighter fluid?

If your into the Boy Scout method my recommendation is ALWAYS assign the job to small kids for starting a fire.  That will teach them of getting everything together prior to lighting the fire and the patience to do it right the first time.  It is a good lesson and they always feel very adult when they finally get a fire started.

The next trick is to find dry wood.  I assume you will probably be starting a fire under wet, damp conditions.  Well, here is where you find dry kindling in the west.

On most National Forests you can gather wood outside of campgrounds for a campfire.  Yep, those branches do not accumulate snow or moisture and are much drier than the wood laying on the ground.  Dry wood is the trick.

Another trick is to buy a small electric chainsaw and throw the generator into the back of the truck.  Drive way outside of a campground and look for dry wood to saw for a campfire.   This beats carrying and mucking around with a regular chainsaw!!

So what do I do for campfires?  Well, I generally pass.  However, when camped with families with children or sometimes in wet, cold weather everybody just wants a campfire.

As a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley Forestry School I would NEVER use such a cheap trick as lighter fluid to start a fire.  With lighter fluid, you still need small dry kindling and then progress to larger pieces to insure that you get a good campfire.  That is almost as much work as building a fire from scratch.

Nope, when I start a fire I get one of those sawdust, glue and started fluid soaked fake logs!!

Yep, some brands are better than others.  But it really does not matter.  Just follow the easy lighting instructions and pile you firewood around the "fire log".  Of course, all rules still apply about getting oxygen to your fire, etc. etc.

I tend to carry one or two "logs" with me for those emergencies.  Campfires by the professionals.  Easy, quick and efficient.  Isn't that the definition of a Professional?


Russ Krecklow said...

Great professional idea, Vlad.

Jerry said...

An electric chain saw and generator while camping????? Please say you're joking. A down and dead western red cedar, a sharp hand saw and an ax will last the whole week. Splitting into any type of damp wood will usually expose dry wood. then fine split it into kindling and progressively larger pieces for a great fire.
A little work is usually more satisfying.

Vladimir Steblina said...

After working nine or ten hours and then coming back or setting up a campsite in the rain was no fun.

A little more work was satisfying when I was backpacking, however, when I was working it was get camp established, cook dinner, and go to bed. Then repeat the next day.

I remember a week plus long horse trip in the Bitterroots. 12 hour days on a horse. NO BABY POWDER!! Those of you that ride horses know what that means. Rain. If I could I would start a fire using white gas bombs!!

I still have dreams about working again in the woods, but this time with ALL those modern inventions such as a solar shower, fleece, good rain gear, and of course.....PRESTO LOGS.