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April 2011 Issue
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Survival skill #1 – Make fire

Making a fire in a desperate situation will do more than warm you; it will lift spirits and offer hope – two essential ingredients for any successful survival situation
  1. Tinder

“This is the most important thing to get your fire burning,” says Steve Porteous, head instructor at Human: Interactive Nature School. Tinder is any material that is fibrous and dry – skeleton leaves, rotten wood, dead fern fronds, toi toi – “think bird nest consistency”. Though mosses look fibrous, a lot of them are still green and won’t burn well.

“You need to gather as many types of tinder as possible as some hold a coal well and others ignite well while others don’t burn at all,” says Porteous. “Make your tinder into a ball the size of a big orange and if the ground is wet place it on a layer of sticks.”

Fine kindling.

  1. Fine kindling

“I’m talking pencil lead-thick and the length of your hand,” says Porteous. “As long as your tinder is dry then this kindling can be damp, even wet, but ultimately dry is best.” Porteous says you should layer the kindling around your tinder bundle, leaving a small doorway for you to light the fire through.


  1.  Kindling

Gather up small pieces of wood about the size of a pencil and layer around until the fine kindling is covered, making sure you don’t cover the doorway. “We want everything to catch quickly and create a good ember base,” explains Porteous.

Pencil-thick kindling

  1. Pencil-thick kindling

“Don’t be in any rush to put thicker wood on yet,” advises Porteous. “Remember, the heart of the fire is a good ember base so layer these sticks as before. The more diligent your preparation and setting, the better chance your fire has to burn well.”

Porteous says most people make a fire bigger than is absolutely necessary. “I have cooked on dinner plate size fires for months on end, never needing anything bigger unless I was really cold,” he says. “The ability to make and nurture a small fire is a worthwhile skill to practise.”

The wood pile and the flame

  1. The wood pile and the flame

Don’t even think about lighting your fire until you have enough wood to keep it going. When you have this, make a small cave in the base of the tinder bundle and light it from deep in that little cave. The fire in these photos was lit with a flint and burnt for ten minutes without any additional wood.

  1. Put it out

“Pour water on it, pee on it, smother it with soil – just make sure you put it out when you’ve finished with it.”