Fire Building Methods
There are several methods for laying a fire and each has advantages. The situation you are in will determine which of the following fires to use.
To make a tepee (or tipi) fire, arrange the tinder and a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a tepee or cone. First, pile the tinder in a compact heap in the center. Arrange smaller kindling around it like poles in a teepee. Arrange larger kindling around the smaller kindling. To stabilize the structure, you may lash some of the wood together using a clove hitch. Light the center. As the tepee burns, the outside logs will fall inward, feeding the fire. Given the domino effect of logs falling inward, this type of fire burns well even with wet wood.
Start with a compact mound of tinder. Drive a green stick into the ground at a 30-degree angle over the tinder. Point the end of the stick in the direction of the wind. Lean pieces of kindling against the lean-to stick and over the tinder. Light the tinder. As the kindling begins to burn, add more kindling.
An alternative method is to place a large log flat on the ground. Place tinder next to the log, on the downwind side of the log. Prop up the kindling over the tinder and leaning against the flat log. Light the tinder. This is a useful method in high winds, with the log acting as a windbreak.
To use the cross-ditch method, scratch a cross about 30 centimeters (12 inches) in the ground. Dig the cross 7.5 centimeters (about 3 inches) deep. Put a large wad of tinder in the middle of the cross. Build a kindling pyramid above the tinder. Add additional fuel to the fire as needed. The shallow ditch allows air to sweep under the tinder to provide a draft. This type of fire is useful in open areas and/or areas with little breeze blowing.
Log Cabin Fire
A log cabin fire is less vulnerable to collapses but it is also inefficient. However, these qualities make it an excellent cooking fire as it will burn for a long period of time and its frame can support cookware.
Begin with a tinder pile around which you will place kindling. As with the construction of a log cabin, place the first two pieces of kindling parallel to each other on each side of the tinder. Next place the second pair of kindling on top of the first and perpendicular to it on opposite sides of the tinder. Continue adding kindling in this manner using progressively thinner sticks of wood as you near the top of the structure.
You can also lay kindling across the tinder in between the successive layers of kindling. The tinder will ignite kindling laid across it. As the kindling burns, it will fall into the middle further fueling the fire.
A hybrid of the Teepee and Log Cabin Fire can be built too by building a small teepee structure inside the log cabin structure. First, erect a small teepee fire and then construct the log cabin around it. The teepee structure allows the fire to light quickly and the log cabin structure sustains the fire for longer periods of time.
Similar in construction to the Log Cabin fire, to lay the pyramid fire, place two small logs or branches parallel on the ground. Starting several inches from the ends of the base logs, place a solid layer of smaller logs across the parallel logs leaving about 2-3 inches in between each log. Add three or four more layers of logs, each layer smaller than and at a right angle to the layer below it to form a pyramid-like structure. Using tinder and kindling, make a starter fire on top of the pyramid. As the starter fire burns, it will ignite the logs below it. This gives you a fire that burns downward, requiring no attention during the night.
Star Fire or Traditional Indian Fire
This is the standard fire of the old West. It is ideal for calm conditions. It is easy to control and requires little maintenance. Start by digging a small, 5-inch ditch about 1 inch in depth. Line the inside of the ditch with kindling. Set up a tinder nest on top of the kindling and surround the tinder with more kindling. Set five or six fuel wood sticks in a star pattern with the ends slightly overhanging the ditch. Light the tinder and blow gently until the fire is lit. Add additional kindling as needed. As the fire continues burning, push in the logs by the ends to keep the fire burning.
Dakota Fire Hole
In some situations, you may find that an underground fireplace will best meet your needs. An underground fire hole conceals the fire and retains the heat well for cooking food. It also reduces and/or redirects smoke from the fire. Follow these steps to make a Dakota Fire Hole.
- Dig a hole in the ground about 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide.
- On the upwind side of this hole, poke or dig a large connecting hole for ventilation. This hole should be about 10 inches away from the fire hole and about 8 inches wide. Angle the hole so it connects to the bottom of your fire hole.
- Build your fire in the fire hole.
Building a Fire on Snow Covered Ground
If you are in a snow-covered area, use green logs to make a dry base for your fire. Trees with wrist-sized trunks are easily broken in extreme cold. Cut or break several green logs and lay them side by side on top of the snow. Add one or two more layers. Lay the top layer of logs opposite those below it.