It is important to practice with fire-making items, and not to underestimate the skill necessary to start a fire, especially in wet weather. A SAR volunteer recalls a spring ski trip when he and a friend fell through spring ice. Somehow managing to get out after fifteen minutes and already well into hypothermia, they found their fingers numb and useless. "Bring a matchbox you can open without using your fingers," he cautions, recalling finally opening the box with his teeth and getting a fire started by lighting a drift of dead leaves under a cut bank. He survived the incident because he could start a fire that day, and he reminds us, "you get cold really fast, but once cold you warm up very slowly indeed. An outside source of heat can be vital."
When lighting a fire, the basic components are:
- Spark: The spark is provided by matches (ideally an abundant supply of waterproof/windproof strike anywhere matches stored in a sealed container) or by a lighter, magnesium starter block, striker starter, or flint and steel.
- Tinder: Tinder is dry, fine and highly flammable. Some can be found in the field, and some can be brought along. Examples include absorbent cotton (from first aid kit), dead dry grasses, tree pitch, commercial fire-starters or candles, and dry bark, such as birch or cedar.
- Fuel: Fuel must be added in increments of increasing size. Kindling must be small and dry.
- Oxygen: The fire must be allowed to get enough oxygen to burn. A teepee arrangement over the tinder is a good way to start the fire.
Make sure you collect enough wood before you start your fire. It’s much easier to find wood when it is still light out, and before your fire is just about to go out.