Author Topic: The importance of fire  (Read 3051 times)


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The importance of fire
« on: November 28, 2010, 09:07:31 PM »

Fire is often discussed in preparedness and wilderness survival.  A great deal of store is set by the ability to build, light, and maintain a fire.  This is with good reason.  Fire also has its detractors.

I once read an authoritative piece on wilderness survival that stated if your clothing and sleep system are adequate, you will never have need of a fire.  I forget who wrote it, but I do remember that the author was widely regarded as an expert in the field.

While I do not dispute his expertise, I find I disagree heartily with his assessment of the need for fire.  Fire does so much more than satisfy a need for warmth.  While there are certainly times when kindling a fire would be a bad idea, there are many more when it would be an excellent idea indeed.  There are also ways to minimize the risks of a fire in less than optimal conditions.

First off, fire serves more than a need for warmth.  Fire is used to cook food, kill biological toxins in water, dry clothes, and any number of other things.  One of the greatest of benefits is in fire’s psychological effects.  Fire comforts us, assures us.  We draw strength from it that can come from nowhere else.

In an emergency, fire can and often is the means by which our rescuers find us.  Wild animals generally don’t like fire.  Bedding down beside a fire will often keep most animals away.  Those pesky mosquitoes don’t like smoke.  Larger animals will usually find smoke to be a reason to go elsewhere.  The main exception to this is cooking.  The smell of cooking food can draw some large, aggressive critters that you would rather not meet.  In bear country, you should use caution when cooking food and even more in storing it and disposing of food waste.

Now in situations where fire might prove to be problematic, there are steps that can be taken.  In extremely dry conditions, you can still have a fire so long as you prevent it from spreading somewhere it isn’t supposed to be.  A ring of rocks works but isn’t the only means to contain a fire.

There is a thing called a Ranger’s pit or a Raider’s pit that can be used when conditions are dry or you need your fire to not be seen.  What you do is to dig a hole in which to build your fire.  It needs to be at least a foot deep, two is better, and a foot to a foot and a half diameter.  Then you dig another hole as deep as the first, but needs be only a few inches in diameter, a couple inches away from the first hole.  The next step is to knock a tunnel between the holes at the bottom.

You put your firelay in the larger hole and light it.  Use small amounts of wood.  The idea is to keep your fire small enough that the flames do not go as high as the edge of the hole.  That conceals the fire.  The secondary hole with the cross tunnel provides air to the fire.  As the fire burns, the hot air flow up and draws fresh air into the bottom of the hole.  You cook on a grate laid on top of the hole.  The only caveat is that your pot, pan, etc. , must leave enough open space to allow airflow.  By keeping the fire small and using a cooking pot on top, the fire light is almost fully contained.  In dry conditions, the fire is easily contained in the hole.  By keeping the dirt from the holes very close by, the fire can be quickly extinguished and hidden with only a few minute’s notice.  Keep the sod or groundcover handy as well and in good condition and you make it look like you were never there in about 10 minutes.  It also holds coals very well so long as it doesn’t rain.  If rain threatens, cover the holes with green logs when the fire is down to coals.  Better yet, use a green log that is water soaked.  The hard but safest way is to put the dirt back in the hole over the banked coals then put a covering over the whole thing and dig it up the next morning.  You have a 50/50 shot of still having a coal bed.  The deeper the coal bed when you cover it, the better chance you have of still having a coal bed in the morning.

All in all, while you may not need a fire, you might still want one.  It may even be that you actually need it without knowing you do.  It won’t make you 10 feet tall and bulletproof, but it will make a huge difference in your attitude when you are about this close from giving up.

Good luck and throw another log on.

Offline drthumbs

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Re: The importance of fire
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2010, 07:31:19 AM »
Hopefully whatever expert was writing that article was just talking about use for heat.  I agree with your points about the usefulness of fire beyond that point.

I believe what you are describing as a Ranger’s pit or a Raider’s pit is more commonly called a Dakota hole.  I useful technique as you described.

Remember that the coals still need  oxygen to burn.  Covering them with dirt will quickly snuff them out.  Now if they are hot enough when uncovered, 800-900 F IIRC, it can reignite with contact with oxygen.  If not, then you have another resourced of charcoal available to you. A modification of this could also be used as a firebed


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Re: The importance of fire
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2010, 07:36:05 AM »
Dakota Hole, yes.  That is the other name I was trying to think of.  Thanks.