Make Fire in Emergencies


Emergency Fires

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© copyright 2004, by Gary Benton

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At times we must use emergency methods of starting a fire in order to survive. These methods can be extremely dangerous and should only be done in life and death situations.


The man looked around and shivered. He was cold. Then wind was strong and seemed to cut through his coat like a knife. He knew that he had to have a fire, or he would soon be dead. He kneeled and scraped the making of a fire together. He lit the first match, but the wind blew it out. He only had one more match and knew his very life depended on the ability to start a fire. “What will I do if this match did not start the fire?” the man asked himself. He struck the match and lowered it to the kindling with a trembling hand. As the kindling flared up and then died, he knew the answer to his question, he knew he would die.


While the introduction to this article is make believe, it could happen. And, sadly, it most likely has happened at some point in the past. Most of us are not very good at starting fires, even when we have the best kindling and dry wood. Just imagine how hard it would be with a high wind, heavy rain, or snow to compound the difficulty. I suggest you always carry at least three methods of starting fires, matches, a magnesium match, and flint and steel. I recently added a disposable lighter to my survival it as well. Why so many methods of starting a fire? First, these are by far the easiest ways to light a fire, and second, the alternatives are difficult for most of us.


Some of the alternate methods of fires starting involve friction, the sun, or the use of more primitive methods when compared to matches or lighters. Lets look at friction first.


The most common method of starting a fire through the use of friction is by making a fire bow (see the illustration). It is, however, one of the most difficult methods for most people to use. You need a piece of hardwood, with a socket in it, for the top, a bow (the cord may be a shoe lace, rope, thong, or whatever you have), a spindle (a piece of straight hardwood) and a piece of softwood for the base. As you spin the spindle, a dark (almost black) dust starts to fall on the base. If you move fast enough and with enough pressure, this black dust will ignite into a very small smoking ember. The fire is so small you may just see the smoke. However, if you gently blow on it, flames will appear. This method is difficult because the pressure must be maintained and the spindle must be rotated at an even and continuous rate. I recommend it as a last resort for most people, because it is not as easy as it sounds.


Another method of starting a fire is by using glass. Any convex lens (an outward bulge) may be used. It can come from a camera, a magnifying glass, binocular, telescope, or even a flashlight. All you have to do is hold the lens so that the suns rays are concentrated on your tender. This method is simple and most kids know how to do this. You can buy a cheap magnifying glass and carry it in your survival kit. They cost less than a buck.


Flint and steel is my preferred method of starting a fire. I usually just save the matches for a real emergency. I like the ease of use and the speed of which it works. All you need is flint and steel. Flint can even be found in nature’s back yard. I have used sparking stones that were not flint to start a fire, but they do take longer. However, commercial flint and steel kits work as easily as a lighter. You take the striking rod (or a knife blade) and run it down the flint. Small pieces of flint will then fall into your tender and ignite it. The whole system is very simple and very easy to use. Everyone should carry flint and steel. A secret here, if you bring dried lint from your dryer with you, one spark from the flint and steel and you will have a flame. Simple and easy.


Alternate methods of starting a fire are there, but they can be dangerous to attempt. However, in a survival situation, you must consider the need for a fire and then weigh the risks involved. The choice is up to the survivor and decision must be made with a full understanding that injury or death could occur. Some flammables, like gasoline or gunpowder are very unstable and are hazardous to use. Nonetheless, there may come a point where a survivor must decide. No one else can decide for your, not take the responsibility if things go wrong.


Gasoline can be mixed with sand and burned, but use extreme caution at all times when using this method. The fuel mixed with the sand is very dangerous to light and should be done by throwing a flame onto the container. Make sure you are not down wind when you ignite a mixture of sand and gasoline. Also, the flames will often flare up when the sand and fuel is stirred with a stick. I have seen this mixture appear to be burned out, but a slight stirring with a stick would bring a low “whump” and the flames would once more be visible. Use this method only as a last resort and in life or death situations of extreme cold. I do not suggest it to be used in any other situation.


Oil can be burned as well. While it is more difficult to start burning than gasoline, it is very effective when used in signaling. When it burns it gives off a very dark and dense black smoke, which is visible for miles. It should also be mixed with sand to use more safely. Using it with a normal campfire difficult because if it is just poured on the coals it will smoke and not ignite immediately, most of the time. As when you are using gasoline, exercise extreme caution when using oil. Fuels and oils are not to be taken lightly when used in fires. They can injure or even kill you, if used carelessly.


A fire can also be started using a “C” cell flashlight battery and steel wool. I recommend you wear gloves when using this method of fire starting. Take the steel wool and pull it out so it is hanging loosely and is not lumped. Pull the strands apart to allow space for air to flow between the steel wool fibers. Place lint, small shavings of wood, or dried grasses on the wool, at the exact center point. The next step is to place the two ends (opposite ends) of the steel wool on the battery terminals (+ and – posts). Make sure you have nothing but your fire starting material in the middle or center of the steel wool, because it will start to glow. Ignition is easy once the wool glows.


Another method of starting a fire involves the use of your car battery. If you are stranded you may be able, if your car has one, to use the cigarette lighter. Just make sure you use very fine paper (toilet paper works well) to ignite with the lighter. I have discovered the glow does not last very long and thick pieces of paper or wood are very difficult to light. Use the thinnest paper you can find.


Additionally, if you have jumper cables you can arch them to make a spark. This method is very dangerous, because it involves the use of gasoline. Mix a small amount of gasoline, less than a teaspoon, with your tender. Wait a few seconds for the air and fuel to mix. You should have already removed the vehicle battery and place it near the tender, as far away as your jumper cables will allow. Connect the cables properly at the battery terminals, making sure the opposite ends of the cable are not touching. Then, very carefully, pick up the two ends of the unattached cable. Holding the clamps of the cables (on the unattached end of the cable) touch them together about four inches above the tender. The fire should start almost immediately. Be prepared for a sudden flare-up of flame as the fuel/air mixture ignites. Once the kindling is burning, add small sticks until the fire is burning well. The gradually add larger and larger pieces of dry wood. This method of fire starting can be very dangerous and should only be attempted in true life and death situations.


If you have weapon with you a fire can be started very quickly. We have all seen the movies where a man starts a fire by shooting into his kindling. Well, maybe it can be done that way, but I have never seen happen. First, it is dangerous to shoot a bullet into your kindling, and second, the blast from the weapon will most likely scatter your kindling. You can, however, use the powder from the bullet to start a fire. It is dangerous to do, but once again, it can be done when a fire means life or death. The bullet must be removed from the shell, which is dangerous, and the gunpowder sprinkled on your kindling. This gunpowder will flare up and burn from the slightest spark. While this method works, once again, remember it is very dangerous to use.


Now, before you ever attempt any method of fire starting, always have your tender and fuel nearby. Lint, bird nests, fire sticks, or other materials should be in place before you attempt to start the fire. Pine pitch, a sticky substance growing on the bark of pines or other evergreens, will aid your fire making. Make sure you have enough fuel to feed the fire once it starts, you may not get a second chance. Ensure that all tender is bone dry and dead wood. Green wood or wet wood will be harder to start. Plus, it gives off more smoke.

The methods explained in this article may be very hazardous for you to attempt. I do not suggest that you go out and try them. I am only offering ways to start a fire without matches or lighters in an extremely serious situation. These methods may be very dangerous and should only be attempted in a life and death case. Serious injury or death can occur when attempting emergency fire making techniques. Neither I, nor the publisher of this article, accept any responsibility for any injuries or death that result from the use of these procedures. The methods discussed here are for use only when the survivor has no choice, except to die.


Take care, stay safe, and I will see you in the woods.


Fire and Emergencies



Gary Benton has over 45 years of outdoor experience in camping, hiking, fishing, and other activities. He's no armchair survival man, he's walked the walk from the arctic to the desert and all the area in between. Gary has an associates degree in Search and Rescue, Survival Operations, a B.S. in Industrial Occupational safety, and all but his thesis completed for a M.S. in Counseling Psychology.
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