Survival Know-How: How to Build A Fire (the Basics)


How to Build a fire

Whether you’re stranded on a desert island or car-camping in a local park, knowing how to build a fire can be an essential and, frankly, impressive skill.  To be honest, I find there’s nothing sexier than watching a man lay a fire to keep me warm on a chilly night by a quiet lake.  Though there’s no harm if he wants to keep me warm, too, if you know what I mean.

But any man knows it’s not just about igniting a fire’s first flames; it’s really about laying a good foundation to keep it going through the night.  To increase the heat it’ll give off as well as how long it will burn for, you’ve got to think about architecture and real estate.  Sound funny?  Here’s why thinking structure and location will help.

Location, location, location

Choose a sheltered area where you can clear a space about 3-4 feet wide, and where the fire won’t be hit by wind or rain.  Block off the space with a ring of rocks to avoid starting a forest fire, especially if it’s dry. This should also be a good 5-10 feet and downwind from your sleeping area.


To start the fire, you’ve got to have tinder and kindling.  Gather leaves, small twigs, moss, or newspaper, but make sure your fuel is dry as it will ignite faster. The finer the better. “Roll” dry grass in the palm of your hand in circular motions and what will drop out is one the best tinders known to man: very fine bits of dry grass – this stuff will go up quickly so make sure to have loads of it.  If all you can find are logs, use a pocket knife to tear off shavings that will catch fire easily.  Add the fuel to your fire pit.


The two easiest and most basic fire-building structures are the “log cabin” and the “pyramid.”  Just like the names imply, the log cabin consists of 4 “walls” of logs laid down in alternating form around the fire, while the pyramid uses a cone-shaped structure to shelter the initial flames.  Channel your inner architect to build an insulating frame around your base tinder and then stuff more into the gaps of your structure to help it catch fire.  The log cabin is great for sheltering your fire in windy locations, while the pyramid allows for better air flow in the beginning which gives the fire oxygen to breathe.


Use a firestarter or matches to set your fire ablaze. Start with the smallest strands of tinder, usually dry grass, moss etc. Cotton wool is great for this and will get you “crackling” in next to no time. The trick then is to slowly add hardier tinder as the fire cathes on, i.e. grass, then twigs, branches and logs and then entire 50ft tree trunks to really get things going.


Fires are living, breathing things, so make sure to feed them with the regular addition of logs or they’ll die.  If it seems like the flames are dying, add tinder, or move the coals around with a sturdy stick to increase air flow.

Using the leftover Ash

In a survival situation, everything around you has a purpose – you just need to be creative and know how to use it accordingly. Do not throw the left over ash from your fire, it’s more useful than you know. The following is a small list of uses for ash.

  • water filter
  • pest deterrent (snails, slug etc)
  • anti-icing (in extreme temperature conditions)
  • crude fertiliser
  • cleaning (fore clean your pots and pans)

Source: Green Living Tips

Smokey the Bear says…

At the end of the night, make sure to douse the flames thoroughly with water.  Even the smallest sparks can re-ignite your fire, and create an unintentional disaster.

By Krista Weger for

More advanced fire building article coming soon.


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