Ladyguide: Building a Fire

What? You thought your boyfriend or dad was going to do it? They’re useless. They never even became boyscouts. Geeze. Light your own motherfucking fire.

First: Don’t be an asshole. Did you notice a sign that said that fire danger was high? Or that the campsite you’ve selected is better without a fire because it’s in some protected wilderness? If you did, stick to your Coleman stove and don’t light a fire. But if it’s all cool, get on with your badass self.

Second: Choose a place to light your fire. Does your campsite have a fire ring? Use that. No? Clear a spot. Leave a couple of feet around the fire-part. Clear it with your boots. Move leaves and shit out of the way.

A bundle of sticks
See these sticks? Together they are called a faggot. And that's about the only time you can use that word.

Third: Get some wood. No, not like that. Some campsites have wood to buy, some don’t. If you’re collecting wood around your campsite, choose wood that is both dead AND fallen. Don’t chop wood off a tree. That’s shit an asshole does. Also, don’t move wood from your backyard (or any other place that’s far away from where you are making your fire) to your campsite. That’s a great way to move invasive species around and it’s a shitty thing to do.

Get wood in 4 different sizes: tinder (dried leaves, pine needles, etc.), tiny branches (like, really small, teeny tiny), branches the size of a pencil, and branches the size of a cigar. Anything bigger is bonus. Also, make sure that shit is dry. You can tell because it’ll snap like, well, a twig. If it doesn’t snap right away, that shit is wet. Don’t use it. It’ll only break your heart.

A picture of tinder surrounded by twigs for starting a fire
Below is the tinder, above are the sticks arranged like a teepee.

Fourth: Set up the tinder. Then take the teeny tiny branches and arrange them like a teepee around the tinder. I even took you an awesome picture of what this shit should look like. Pro-tip: if you’ve planned ahead, you can bring some dryer lint with you. It makes amazing tinder.

Fifth: Light your fire! Use matches if you have them, or a lighter. Light the tinder. Hopefully the tiny branches will catch fire. Note: lighting a fire is much harder than it looks. If anything is remotely wet, your fire may fail. If it looks like it’s dying, blow on it. It may help. Or you might be skipping the marshmallows, either way, by the time you get it going, you’ll be amazed humans ever figured this shit out.

Sixth: Once the fire is going, start adding the pencil-sized branches to the fire. Once those are lit, add the cigar sized branches. If you have bigger branches, start to add those once everything is lit. Always add in the shape of a teepee, making sure there is room to let air around the fire.

ALWAYS PUT YOUR FIRE OUT! Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I have been hiking and seen a campfire that was left smoldering by some asshole. To ensure every spark is out, stir it around with a stick, making sure to bury the embers with dirt. Then, if you have extra water, pour that water on it. Don’t leave it until it stops smoking.

A picture of a campfire
The results of my fire-making prowess.

By [E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

28 replies on “Ladyguide: Building a Fire”

Good advice! I do a lot of backcountry camping, so I’m all about conserving water, so I’m funnier about dumping water on a fire. I also don’t build many fires in the backcountry since I think it’s not the best for the environment, but when I do, I usually keep at least some water by my side.

Another thought on fire buckets, if you are going to leave them full overnight or some such (as in it is for emergencies, not necessarily putting out your fire), put a stick in the bucket that is big enough to lean over the side. That way any critters that accidentally find their way in can also find their way out.

My family LOVES a good fire. We joke that Burn Day is a family holiday – but it actually is. Everyone participates. We all stand around and watch, mesmerized. It’s totally a holiday.

And with our fascination with fire comes fire safety! We start young. My 4 yr old cousin helps with Burn Day. She learns all about building it, tending to it, and staying clear of it. She learned how to stay clear of the smoke because hot ash can actually get lifted up and burn you as it comes down. My parents taught me how to build fires in our wood stove when I was 7. From that point on it was my job to build the fire at night. It’s a handy skill. I only burned myself once but even then, I knew how to treat the burn. I was pretty proud of myself (Mom was too since I didn’t freak out).

My great-grandfather would save dryer lint, pack it into egg cartons and soak it in lighter fluid (I think?). He’d cut out each packet and use them as fire starter when he would go hunting. Pretty damn resourceful. (and if he wanted the lint, my great-grandmother said that he’d have to do the laundry to get it) :)

Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s lighter fluid or something else. I seem to remember it solidifying? The last time he went hunting I was like 8 so this is coming from deep-memory. (my family is very young, my great-grandfather is still alive and going strong…)

I will have to confirm with my grandfather…

The Mister and I went camping together the summer before last, and I started our first fire with one match. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so impressed. Also, I was the only one who could get the fire lit the rest of the weekend after it poured buckets on us. SOMEBODY likes to make make fun of me for having been a Girl Scout, but SOMEBODY would have had jack shit to eat without me around.

In perfect honestly, my ex-boyfriend (who was an Eagle Scout) taught me how to build a fire. That said, I never could do it with him watching because he was always so fracking nosey and then would say, “Here, let me do it!” I’m actually rather proud that I am able to light a fire without him (maybe a pun is intended. I don’t know…)

Sawdust and crumpled old newspapers* also make for awesome tinder. Back in ye olde girl scout days we used to make fire starters by filling the cups of a cardboard egg box with sawdust (collected from my father’s woodworking projects) and then pouring paraffin wax into them. When fire making time rolled around we would tear off a few of the cups and put them at the bottom of the tinder pile.

*Actually crumpled old papers of any kind work. My friends and I used to have a ritual bonfire at the end of every school year. We burned exam papers, detention slips, the pamphlets on abstinence that the school handed out one year, and any other school crap that had pissed us off.

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