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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Brief Guide to Building Great Campfires

Building a good fire for your camping trick isn’t just a fancy party trick to impress your fellow campers. Although most camping gear today make traditional campfire making look paltry and tedious, knowing how to build a proper camp fire can spell the difference between life and death extreme circumstances.

In the older, simpler, and less complicated days, when matches and gas torches were but luxuries, building a proper camp fire was essential to any outdoor activity. This was where everyone sough warmth against the cold environs, and where people found the means to cook a warm dinner for everyone. Night temperatures can be very unforgiving, and camp fires provided a means for everyone gather around and warm up.

Aside from the heat, camp fires also repelled wild animals. Wild dogs, lions and other beasts are not keen to approach a campfire. That is why camp fires are always left burning well into the night.

While the art of making campfires has been all but forgotten – partly because matches have begun to seem more convenient – campfire making as a skill is still relevant and essential to any camper’s repertoire of tricks.

First of all, the secret to starting camp fires is to start them quickly. You can only do this if you have a firm grasp of what is needed to start a fire – heat, oxygen, and fuel.

Oxygen, while around us, is not always readily available to the campfire, you may have to arrange the fuel in such a way that it has adequate air supply. You may also supplement this supply by blowing into a cinder, or fanning an already blossoming flame.

Heat is generally generated for campfires by friction. You will probably use an assortment of methods to generate this heat – rubbing two sticks together, using flint stones, and other techniques. However, this won’t give you a glorious fan of flames if you don’t have the right fuel.

Fuel is what keeps your fire burning, and finding the right type of fuel is integral to your efforts at building and maintaining a fire. Building a fire by applying the heat to the logs isn’t going to work. You will need tinder. Tinder is easily combustible materials that will burn quickly and hopefully emit enough heat and gases to start a fire with larger pieces of wood.
Ideal tinder includes dry sticks, bark, dry leaves, and twigs. Use these kindling to start the fire and to help maintain it. But remember that you can only successfully build a fire if the larger, harder to burn pieces of wood burn.

Some common designs of campfires include:

Tepee – tepees are great for quick fires, and last long into the night. It makes use of a lot of tinder, so you will need a good bunch of it. The longer burning wood is placed, balanced at against each other vertically around the tinder. This makes sure that the heat and the gases of the tinder are generated in a way to help the larger pieces of wood to burn. It is the perfect fire for boiling water and general purpose campfires.

Pyramid – You build a ‘pyramid’ of logs by laying the logs horizontally on the ground together, then building another layer on top of the next gradually forming a pyramid. Although this type of campfire is a little hard to start up, the advantage of such is that it generates a lot of charcoal that will be useful in the future. It burn pretty well and is quite a stable fire.
Parallel – The parallel fire puts the tinder in between two logs. This is an efficient burning fire since the insides of the log burn too – having the fire and heat going in a good, snug place between two logs.

Star (Indian) – This is the type of fire you usually see on those old Western movies. The logs are laid out like spokes of a wheel. Tinder is placed in the middle. The fire is easy to maintain, although you do have to push each ‘spoke’ of the wheel towards the middle as the fuel burns up.

ConclusionThere are other types of campfires, all with specific purposes. But as with any outdoor skill, creating and maintaining any of them takes a lot of practice to get right. And like mothers usually tell their kids, don’t play with fire. Treat it with respect as it has the power to save and to destroy. Remember to follow safety precautions after using a fire – douse the fire with water or bury the remains of a campfire with dust and dirt. Fires left unattended may cause serious property damage, so always take precautions that nothing that shouldn’t burn gets burned.

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