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Fire has long been considered one of man’s best friends. It provides both light and warmth, it enables us to cook our foods, and it aids us in the production of primitive weapons.
Therefore, understanding how to build a fire is an essential skill for any outdoorsman, and the ability to build a fire in wet conditions is especially useful. Thus, the first thing you need to understand about building a fire is that it is all about the production of BTUs! While that may sound like an oxymoron, the fact is that heat production is the single most important key concept to building and managing a fire, regardless of whether it’s a campfire or the fire in your wood stove. It is essential to understand how heat and air react, with both wood and moisture, in order to gain a proper understanding of how to build a fire in wet conditions. Obviously, a heat source is required to light a fire and both oxygen and fuel are needed to maintain it.
The second concept that you need to be aware of is that the less dense and/or the smaller the diameter of the fuel is, the faster it burns; the denser and/or the larger diameter the fuel is, the slower it burns. Further, it is important that you have enough fuel at hand before you start the fire to get it going so that you don’t have to scramble to find appropriate fuel while you are trying to build your fire.
To start a fire in wet conditions, you will first need some lightweight, small diameter fuel known as “tinder.” Next, you will need to build a small platform on which to start your fire; when you build a fire on the ground, some of the heat it produces is absorbed by the ground beneath the fire and when that ground is wet, building a fire on top of it will cause it to produce steam, which will dampen your fire.
It also should be noted that any small tree branches lying on the ground during a soaking rain also will absorb a significant amount of moisture; when gathering tender in wet conditions, it is best to look above ground. For instance, the upper sections of tall stands of dead grass are often dry enough to burn after a rain, and pine trees often have a plethora of small, dead branches on their lower extremities that can be easily collected.
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Once you have sufficient tinder and fuel to start and maintain your fire, the next step that you need to take is to clear the ground of any debris or leaf litter until you reach bare ground. Then, place several short sections of small diameter dead limbs side by side to create a platform on which to start your fire.
Starting the Fire
Next, place your tender in a pile on the platform that you built and apply heat. While a magnifying glass, a match or a butane lighter will serve the purpose in many cases, sometimes your tinder and fuel are simply too sodden to ignite easily; in those situations, you need a more intense source of heat. Consequently, it is wise to carry a Magnesium fire-starter block with you, in addition to waterproof matches and a butane lighter. With this device, you simply use a knife to remove some shavings from the edge of the block and then, you either use the imbedded flint striker or a match to light the magnesium, which will burn so intensely that it will light anything that is placed on top of it.
Once your tinder is going, you simply add small bits of slightly larger fuel to the pyre until you have built the fire up to the size that you want. But when doing so, you need to plan ahead, because when placing larger pieces of damp fuel on the fire, those pieces will first need to absorb enough heat to convert the moisture they contain to steam so that it can evaporate and then, they will need to heat further to reach the flash point before they will burn. Thus, it is imperative that your fire be really hot before you start adding larger pieces of wet fuel, and that it has enough heat to dry the fuel that you do add.
If You Can’t Find Dry Wood
The last concept that you need to be familiar with is that split wood burns better than round wood. If are having trouble finding sufficient quantities of small, dead limbs to build your fire, then you can use your survival knife and a baton to split larger pieces of damp wood to expose the dry interiors in order to produce burnable fuel for your fire.
The key concepts to remember when building a fire in wet conditions are that fire is all about the production of heat and thus, you need heat to light and maintain a fire.
Fortunately, all of this is not as difficult as it might sound, since there is really very little difference in building a fire in dry conditions and in wet conditions, other than being aware of the key concepts mentioned above, and planning ahead so that your wood is dry by the time that you need it.
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