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Chapter 7


In many survival situations, the ability to start a

fire can make the difference between living and

dying. Fire can fulfill many needs. It can provide

warmth and comfort. It not only cooks and

preserves food, it also provides warmth in the

form of heated food that saves calories our body

normally uses to produce body heat. You can use

fire to purify water, sterilize bandages, signal for

rescue, and provide protection from animals. It

can be a psychological boost by providing peace

of mind and companionship. You can also use

fire to produce tools and weapons.

Fire can cause problems, as well. The enemy can

detect the smoke and light it produces. It can

cause forest fires or destroy essential equipment.

Fire can also cause burns and carbon monoxide

poisoning when used in shelters.Weigh your need

for fire against your need to avoid enemy detection.


7-1. To build a fire, it helps to understand the basic principles 

 a fire.

Fuel (in a nongaseous state) does not burn directly. When you 


heat to a fuel, it produces a gas. This gas, combined with 

oxygen in the air, burns.

7-2. Understanding the concept of the fire triangle is very 

in correctly constructing and maintaining a fire. The three 

sides of the triangle represent air, heat, andfuel. If you remove 

any of these, the fire will go out. The correct ratio of these 

components is very important 

for a fire to burn at its greatest capability. The only way to 

learn this ratio is to practice.


7-3. You will have to decide what site and arrangement to use.

Before building a fire consider—

  • The area (terrain and climate) in which you are operating.

  • The materials and tools available.

  • Time; how much time do you have?

  • Need; why do you need a fire?

  • Security; how close is the enemy?

7-4. Look for a dry spot that—

  • Is protected from the wind.

  • Is suitably placed in relation to your shelter (if any).

  • Will concentrate the heat in the direction you desire.

  • Has a supply of wood or other fuel available. 

  • (Figure 7-4 lists types of 

  • material you can use.)

7-5. If you are in a wooded or brush-covered area, clear the 

brush andscrape the surface soil from the spot you have 

selected. Clear a circleat least 1 meter (3 feet) in diameter so 

there is little chance of the fire spreading.

7-6. If time allows, construct a fire wall using logs or rocks. 

This wall  help to reflect or direct the heat where you want it

 (Figure 7-1). It will also reduce flying sparks and c

ut down on the amount of wind

blowing into the fire. However, you will need enough 

wind to keep

the fire burning.


Do not use wet or porous rocks as they may explode when heated.

Figure 7-1. Types of Fire Walls

Figure 7-1. Types of Fire Walls

7-7. In some situations, you may find that an underground 

fireplace will best meet your needs. It conceals the fire and 

serves well for cooking food. 

To make an underground fireplace or Dakota fire hole 

(Figure 7-2)—

  • Dig a hole in the ground.

  • On the upwind side of this hole, poke or dig a large 

  • connecting hole 

  • for ventilation.

  • Build your fire in the hole as illustrated.

Figure 7-2. Dakota Fire Hole

Figure 7-2. Dakota Fire Hole

7-8. If you are in a snow-covered area, use green logs to 

make a dry base for your fire (Figure 7-3). Trees with wrist-sized 

trunks are easily broken in extreme cold. Cut or break several 

green logs and lay them 

side by side on top of the snow. Add one or two more layers. 

Lay the top layer of logs opposite those below it.

Figure 7-3. Base for Fire in Snow-covered Area

Figure 7-3. Base for Fire in Snow-covered Area


7-9. You need three types of materials (Figure 7-4) to build a fire.

Figure 7-4. Materials for Building Fires

Figure 7-4. Materials for Building Fires

Figure 7-4. Materials for Building Fires (Continued)

Figure 7-4. Materials for Building Fires (Continued)

7-10. Tinder is dry material that ignites with little heat—

a spark starts a fire. The tinder must be absolutely dry to be 

sure just a spark will ignite it. If you have a device that 

generates only sparks, charred cloth will be almost essential. 

It holds a spark for long periods, allowing you to put tinder on 

the hot area to generate a small flame. You can make charred 

cloth by heating cotton cloth until it turns black, but does not 

burn. Once it is black, you must keep it in an airtight container 

to keep it dry. Prepare this cloth well in advance of any 

survival situation. Add it to your individual survival kit. 

Other impromptu items could be alcohol pads or petroleum 

jelly gauze.

7-11. Kindling is readily combustible material that you add 

to the burning tinder. Again, this material should be absolutely 

dry to ensure rapid burning. 

Kindling increases the fire's temperature so that it will ignite 

less combustible material.

7-12. Fuel is less combustible material that burns slowly and 

steadily once ignited.


7-13. There are several methods for laying a fire and each 

one has

advantages. The situation you are in will determine which of the

following fires to use.


7-14. To make a tepee fire (Figure 7-5), arrange the tinder and 

a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a tepee or cone. Light 

the center. As the tepeeburns, the outside logs will fall inward, feeding the fire. This type of fire burns well even with wet wood.


7-15. To lay a lean-to fire (Figure 7-5), push a green stick into 

the ground at a 30-degree angle. Point the end of the stick in t

he direction of the wind. Place some tinder deep under this 

lean-to stick. Lean pieces of 

kindling against the lean-to stick. Light the tinder. As the 

kindling catches fire from the tinder, add more kindling.


7-16. To use the cross-ditch method (Figure 7-5), 

scratch a cross about 30 centimeters (12 inches) in size in the 

ground. Dig the cross 

7.5 centimeters (about 3 inches) deep. Put a large wad of 

tinder in the middle of the cross. Build a kindling pyramid 

above the tinder. The shallow ditch allows air to sweep under 

 tinder to provide a draft.


7-17. To lay the pyramid fire (Figure 7-5), place two small logs 

or branches parallel on the ground. Place a solid layer of 

small logs across the parallel logs. Add three or four more 

layers of logs, eachlayer smaller than and at a right angle to 

the layer below it. Make a starter fire on top of the pyramid.
As the starter fire burns, it will 
ignite the logs below it. This 

gives you a fire that burns downward, requiring no attention 

during the night.

Figure 7-5. Methods for Laying Fires

Figure 7-5. Methods for Laying Fires

7-18. There are several other ways to lay a fire that are quite 


Your situation and the material available in the area may 

make another more suitable.


7-19. Always light your fire from the upwind side. Make sure 

you lay the tinder, kindling, and fuel so that your fire will burn

 as long as you it. Igniters provide the initial heat required to 

start the tinder burning. They fall into two categories: modern 

methods and primitive methods.


7-20. Modern igniters use modern devices. These are items 

that we normally think of to start a fire.


7-21. Make sure these matches are waterproof. Also, store

 them in a

waterproof container along with a dependable striker pad.

Convex Lens

7-22. Use this method (Figure 7-6) only on bright, sunny days. 

The lens can come from binoculars, a camera, telescopic 

sights, or magnifying glasses. Angle the lens to concentrate 

the sun's rays on the tinder. Hold thelens over the same spot 

until the tinder begins to smolder. Gently blow 

or fan the tinder into a flame and apply it to the fire lay.

Figure 7-6. Lens Method

Figure 7-6. Lens Method

Metal Match

7-23. Place a flat, dry leaf under your tinder with a portion 


Place the tip of the metal match on the dry leaf, holding the 

metal match in one hand and a knife in the other. Scrape 

your knife against the metal match to produce sparks. The 

sparks will hit the tinder. When the tinder starts to smolder, 

proceed as above.


7-24. Use a battery to generate a spark. Use of this method 

depends on

the type of battery available. Attach a wire to each terminal. 

Touch the

ends of the bare wires together next to the tinder so the sparks 

will ignite it.

7-25. Often, you will have ammunition with your equipment. 

If so, carefully

extract the bullet from the shell casing by moving the bullet 

back and forth.

Use the gunpowder as tinder. Discard the casing and primers. 

A spark will ignite the powder.

NOTE: Be extremely careful during this operation as the 

primers are still sensitive and even a small pile of gunpowder 

can give surprising results.


7-26. Primitive igniters are those attributed to our early 

ancestors. They can be time-consuming, which requires 

you to be patient and persistent.

Flint and Steel

7-27. The direct spark method is the easiest of the primitive 

methods to use.

The flint and steel method is the most reliable of the direct 

spark methods.

Strike a flint or other hard, sharp-edged rock with a piece 

of carbon steel

(stainless steel will not produce a good spark). This method 

requires a

loose-jointed wrist and practice. When the tinder catches a 

spark, blow on it.

The spark will spread and burst into flames.


7-28. The fire-plow (Figure 7-7) is a friction method of 

ignition. To use

this method, cut a straight groove in a softwood base 

and plow the

blunt tip of a hardwood shaft up and down the groove. 

The plowing

action of the shaft pushes out small particles of wood 

fibers. Then,

as you apply more pressure on each stroke, the friction 

ignites the wood particles.

Figure 7-7. Fire-Plow

Figure 7-7. Fire-Plow

Bow and Drill

7-29. The technique of starting a fire with a bow and drill (Figure 7-8)

is simple, but you must exert much effort and be persistent to produce

a fire. You need the following items to use this method:

  • Socket. The socket is an easily grasped stone or piece of hardwood

  • with a slight depression in one side. Use it to hold the drill in place

  • and to apply downward pressure.

  • Drill. The drill should be a straight, seasoned hardwood stick about

  • 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) in diameter and 25 centimeters (10 inches)

  • long. The top end is round and the low end blunt (to produce

  • more friction).

  • Fire board. Although any board may be used, a seasoned softwood

  • board about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) thick and 10 centimeters

  • (4 inches) wide is preferable. Cut a depression about 2 centimeters

  • (3/4 inch) from the edge on one side of the board. On the underside,

  • make a V-shaped cut from the edge of the board to the depression.

  • Bow. The bow is a resilient, green stick about 2.5 centimeters (3/4 inch)

  • in diameter with a bowstring. The type of wood is not important.

  • The bowstring can be any type of cordage. Tie the bowstring from one

  • end of the bow to the other, without any slack.

Figure 7-8. Bow and Drill

Figure 7-8. Bow and Drill

7-30. To use the bow and drill, first prepare the fire lay. Then place a

bundle of tinder under the V-shaped cut in the fire board. Place one foot

on the fire board. Loop the bowstring over the drill and place the drill in

the precut depression on the fire board. Place the socket, held in one hand,

on the top of the drill to hold it in position. Press down on the drill and

saw the bow back and forth to twirl the drill (Figure 7-8). Once you have

established a smooth motion, apply more downward pressure and work

the bow faster. This action will grind hot black powder into the tinder,

causing a spark to catch. Blow on the tinder until it ignites.

7-31. Primitive fire-building methods are exhausting and require practice

to ensure success. If your survival situation requires the use of primitive

methods, remember the following hints to help you construct and

maintain the fire:

  • If possible, use nonaromatic seasoned hardwood for fuel.

  • Collect kindling and tinder along the trail.

  • Add insect repellent to the tinder.

  • Keep the firewood dry.

  • Dry damp firewood near the fire.

  • Bank the fire to keep the coals alive overnight.

  • Carry lighted punk, when possible.

  • Be sure the fire is out before leaving camp.

  • Do not select wood lying on the ground. It may appear to be dry but

  • generally doesn't provide enough friction.

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