Tactical Notes – Fire

The group starts a fire
Fire making becomes a group effort.

The Importance of Fire During an Emergency

A fire can be beneficial during a survival situation. It provides:

  • Warmth during periods of cooler temperatures.
  • A sense of companionship during a stressful situation.
  • Signalling capability (light during nighttime, smoke during the day).

To have a fire, one must have the materials necessary to get one started, and be familar with fire construction.

Fire-Making Materials

Gather a group of experienced outdoor-types together, and ask them how best to start a fire in an emergency situation. You’ll probably receive a variety of answers, all of which probably work.

Sporting goods stores and outdoor catalogs have a variety of fire-making materials available. The choice usually comes down to reliability, ease of use, and weight or portablility. Check around, and choose what fits you the best. Practice with your choice before you start carrying it. Make sure it works.

Author's Fire Tools
Fire tools carried by the Author. Note the length of duct tape wrapped around the bottom match container.

Everyday Use vs. Emergency Use

What do I carry? For a hike, I have fire-making materials for everyday use and for emergency use.

Everyday Use

For everyday use, I carry the following:

  1. Matches– Waterproof military-issue GP-1 match container of wooden kitchen-style matches with a small sandpaper striker strip.
  2. Firestarter– Small, Bic-style disposable lighter.

The intended use is routine stove lighting for meal preparation. Not survival-related. Just day-to-day stuff. I find using the lighter saves a lot of matches.

For Emergency Use Only (Meets Ten Essential Requirement)

For survival and emergencies, I carry:

  1. Matches– Commercial waterproof/windproof survival strike-anywhere matches and a small birthday cake-style candle in a waterproof military-issue GP-1 match container.
  2. Firestarter– Sealed packet of military-issue trioxane heating tabs and a military-issue magnesium fire starting tool. Directions for fire starting tool use.

These are items I don’t intend to use on a day-to-day basis. They remain intact from trip to trip, stay in my pack, and are for emergency use only.

Aren’t We Overdoing It?

Some may say duplication of fire resources as listed above is unecessary, takes up to much pack space, is too much weight, etc. etc. Why carry two different types of matches, a lighter, and a magnesium fire starting tool?

I gotta say, preparing for and building a fire in cold, damp weather is one of the greatest challenges you’ll face. You can make it easier or harder. I choose easier. The above combination (Everyday and Emergency) works for me.

Cautionary Notes

Wildfire Danger

One must use their head when considering a fire, either for warmth or signalling during an emergency. Backcountry areas (particularly in the Western United States), are plagued by hot, dry conditions during the summer months, resulting in an extreme wildfire threat. Campfire use is generally banned during those periods.

Unfortunately, cases are documented where man-caused wildfires originate from small campfires started by those who felt it was the “right thing to do” in a perceived emergency situation. Either the fires got away from them, or were left unattended when not completely extinguished.

Do not use a fire under any circumstances during periods when campfires are banned due to fire danger. The ban is in effect for a very good reason.

At other times, use extreme caution.

The last thing a person needs during an emergency situation is a greater wildfire emergency of their own creation. If you make it out in one piece, you’ll most likely face criminal or civil action for negligence.

Building a Safe Campfire

Okay, so how does one construct a safe campfire, and more importantly how does one put out a campfire safely? Visit the U.S. Forest Service Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest website for specific information.

Children and Fire

Children require special care and supervision when it comes to possessing fire-making materials in an outdoor environment. Fire is not a toy, nor is it a recreation experience. Adults need to use discretion, and consider factors such as the young person’s level of maturity and the time of year.

Certain immature adults need to be given the same consideration as children.