Fire Starting 101: Do’s And Don’ts Of Starting A Survival Fire

Jeff Anderson
Jeff Anderson, Editor

It's a fact of survival:

Fire is life.

Fire allows you to make water safe, cook food, light your way, and fight off hypothermia.

Anyone can start a fire in ideal conditions, right?

But what happens if you have to start a fire under “extreme” circumstances?

Recently I discussed this topic with survival expert Kevin Estela.

Here is a summary of what he told me.

Fire-Starting Do's And Don'ts

Fire Starting Tips: Do's And Don'ts
Kevin Estela

One of the problems people have when it comes to starting a fire is that they make basic mistakes.

Deep down, a lot of us think we know how to start a fire already.

As a result, we may make mistakes by rushing, assuming things from television work, or just basically being careless.

(And no, dumping a bucket of lighter fluid on the fire won't always help, either.)

Let's hit three topics: avoiding common fire mistakes, starting a fire when conditions aren't ideal, and concealing a fire when you don't want to be discovered.

How NOT To Start A Fire

One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting a fire is lack of patience.

If you try to go too big too soon, you're setting yourself up for failure.

At the same time, make sure you collect enough resources to keep a fire going.

You can't afford to leave the fire at a critical moment to find more fuel to keep feeding it, because it will sputter and die when you neglect it.

There's one more thing to consider, though, and that is that you should never build a fire that you're not prepared to put out.

(That's a good way to start a forest fire.)

Fire Starting Under Extreme Conditions

On a clear day with dry fuel, starting a fire is really no big deal.

If it's raining, sleeting, or blowing like crazy, though, it's going to be much harder.

Persevere in the face of these terrible environmental conditions.

NEVER give up, even if you feel like quitting, because you NEED that fire.

Create a shield with your body, if possible; you can also use your clothes.

The buddy system helps, too.

If you think outside the box, you may come up with other ways to protect your fire.

Concealing A Fire For Escape And Evasion

Finally, you may want to create a fire that is concealed, so you don't give away your position in an “escape and evasion” situation.

One option is a Dakota fire pit, which is like a chimney in the dirt.

Other options include poking holes in a 55 gallon drum, or using toilet paper soaked in rubbing alcohol inside a paint can (which is like a giant candle).

Yet another option is to dig an “H” in the ground and close the flaps when you're done to cover your tracks.

Finally, building any fire under a tree will help to dissipate smoke through the leaves.

(Remember that the fuel you use will make a big difference as far as smoke goes.)

Keep all these do's and don'ts in mind when you consider building your own survival fire.

The life you save could be your own – or it could be the lives of your loved ones.

What Are Your Go-To Tinder Kit Items?

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