As the days grow shorter and the nights become chillier, I find myself craving an evening around the fire. In my family, I am a renowned fire builder. My patience for building fires was nurtured as a child as we built fires at our family camping spot to roast hot dogs and grill hamburgers; at summer camp, a fire pit meant a night of songs and making “best friends forever.” These days, I love building a fire because I know that it means a night of grilling vegetables, toasting friends, great stories – warmth inside and out. I have spent hours with a friend in our community talking about techniques, fireplace designs, and wood.
To safely** make a fire, I recommend gathering the following:
A SAFE PLACE TO START YOUR BURN. Make sure that you are a safe distance from structures, trees and bushes.
A SOURCE OF WATER. Whether a hose, a bucket, or any other vessel, make sure that you have water to put out the fire or to use in case of emergency.
MATCHES. There are plenty of other sources of fire, but unless you are ambitious or in full survival mode, matches work just fine.
TINDER. This is what catches your initial sparks that will ignite your kindling. Small, dry sticks and moss work well. In the South, we have an abundance of pine needles which also work well. I recently heard from a friend that dried Magnolia Tree leaves are excellent tinder.
KINDLING. Kindling wood should be slightly larger than tinder, but small enough to ignite easily. This wood will burn longer than tinder and ignite your logs. Look for sticks a couple inches in diameter at the most.
LOGS. These are larger pieces of wood that will act as your long-term source of fuel. These pieces should be several inches in diameter and should be dry. Look for branches on the ground, as this should be dead wood. I don’t recommend removing limbs from trees to use as logs; doing so could harm the tree and the wood will be live and moist.
Build a fire pit by clearing a circular space, around 4-5 feet in diameter. To protect yourself from logs that fall as they burn, you should dig a small area into the ground. If there are large rocks in the area, place those around your pit for extra protection.
Make a pile of tinder in the center of your fire pit. There are plenty of methods for stacking wood and they all work. But, if I’m just going to enjoy a fire for an evening with friends, I always place my kindling over the tinder, almost like a teepee. This way, the fire stays small and manageable. As the kindling falls over, they will keep feeding the fire. Light your tinder. You should not use lighter fluid to ignite your campfire. If you are in the woods, it can be dangerous, but it will also make your marshmallows taste terrible.
Your best bet is to light it in several different places, allowing the kindling to catch fire more rapidly. Once the kindling begins to burn in earnest, you can add your logs to the fire. You may need to add more tinder and kindling at first to sustain the burn.
WIND. I keep an old church fan handy to give wind to the fire. A gentle burst of wind helps deliver the necessary oxygen to the budding fire. If you are having trouble getting a fire started, try repeated sweeps with a church fan (or a piece of cardboard). Of course, they make bellows for this task as well.
Enjoy your evening. Make sure to bring marshmallows, hot chocolate, or my favorite, a Crispin Artisan Hard Cider.
**Building a fire can be simple, but please be aware that it must be done with extreme caution and respect for your surroundings. Be careful and have fun.
-Illustrations by our friend, Drew Botts.