I was a girl scout for 10 years.
Most of it I could take or leave, but I was a big fan of the outdoorsy skill building stuff. Which Girl Scouts was pretty light on (oh heavens! Might these young fair ladies break a nail whilst learning to carve wood? I hear a lawsuit pending. Flee away from such danger! To the sewing machines, children!). But knot tying, setting up tents, campfire building – that was my favorite.
I have two secret skills in life. One is that I know how to tie balloon animals, a skill also thanks to Girl Scouts. The second is that I am really, really good at building a campfire.
This weekend I went camping with my superb husband who was smart enough to let me build the fires, because really its my favorite part of camping and I get kinda pouty if I don’t do it. I’m sorry, but I’ve sat by and watched too many times while some guy, by virtue of having a Y chromosome, decided that he must build the fire and figured that because simply placing a fire starter block next to a log wasn’t working, the wood must be too wet.
This weekend I managed to do every pyromaniac’s dream – build a one match fire. Granted, it’s August in Montana which means I don’t even remember the last time it rained and you have to try harder to keep things from catching on fire, but I still built a couple really good fires. So let me share my wisdom.
If this was one of those blogs with really pretty pictures, there would be a really pretty tutorial here. But it’s one of those blogs where the author can’t find her camera charger or card reader and wouldn’t have thought to take pictures anyway.
Have a fire pit, cause Smoky Bear would get pretty mad otherwise. Make sure the idiot before you didn’t dump three buckets of water into it and soak the coals. If their are chunks of wood floating in water, just forget about camping and go to McDonalds. If things are just damp, chuck the half burned logs out and start from scratch.
Gather up some tinder. I get tinder and kindling confused and for the life of me have no idea which is which but I looked it up this time. You start with tinder.
Tinder is this little stuff that starts the fire. If you did Girl/Boy Scouts, it was probably some dryer lint in an egg carton. If you are a pansy, it’s one of those fire starter blocks. Otherwise, it’s things like dried grass, pine needles, pine cones, small twigs, dried leaves, etc.
Summer time in Montana looks like this, which means there is plenty of dried grass to spare. And also that you will pretty much go to jail for throwing a cigarette out your window. I don’t know if that’s true. But it could be.
The balance in your tinder is key. If you just get a big pile of dried grass your fire will look awesome, for about three seconds and then it’s gone. Same with pine needles. That’s why I like using a mix and throwing in a few pinecones. Gather up a couple handfuls of anything that looks like it will catch fire easily and pile it in the middle of your fire pit.
Get some kindling. For kindling think stuff between twigs and small logs.
Kindling will take a little longer to catch than the tinder, and will be deliver the fire from the tinder to the logs. So it’s got to be something that will catch easily but not burn out before it catches the bigger pieces on fire. Take the kindling and form a teepee around the tinder, but make sure some of the tinder is is still accessible ’cause that’s what you will be lighting.
They should be not huge and dry. That’s the general rule of thumb. There are two basic steps you can take from here. The log cabin or the tee pee. The log cabin you basically build a log cabin around your kindling teepee using 4 medium size or 6 smaller logs. It allows air to flow through the bottom and is good if you want a stable fire. But it doesn’t catch as fast usually. The second type is the teepee, which can be a little harder to get to stand up, but not impossible. Take three or four logs and make a little teepee around your kindling. Basically whatever you do, you don’t want to smush your fire, rather, you want to have plenty of room for the air and flames to throw.
Take any extra tinder you have and stuff it around the edges. Now take a match and light it. If need to, blow or fan the fire so that the flames grow. And va va voom you have a fire.