By Miles Tanner
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Fire symbolizes passion and purity, creativity and motivation, mourning and regeneration. Through its unique capability for creation and destruction, fire is an element we’ve had to master, as our use and control of it has long set us apart as a species. Fire has kept us warm, made cooking food possible, and facilitated agriculture. Harnessing the heat from fire helped us to forge instruments that eased daily life and weapons for hunting and for fighting our enemies. Food cooked over fires changed our very anatomy, and artifacts hardened by fire became some of the earliest forms of art.
While fire still plays a critical role in the survival of much of the population, we’re often further removed from it and less reliant on it in our daily lives. Despite our relative distance from fire nowadays, it still holds a special power that brings us together. There’s nothing quite like watching a fire, while bathed in the glow of a dancing flame, hands held close to capture its warmth, as we are transfixed by the unique hold fire maintains over us.
And whether you build a fire to cozy up inside a mountain cabin, warm yourself at camp, or prepare the perfect backpacking meal, learning to create and extinguish fire is a worthy skill. This book is, in many ways, an invitation to explore an inherent, deeply rooted curiosity and to use the knowledge you gain in the process to enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures: a fire.
I have always been fascinated by fire. As a child, I would sit by the fireplace and watch the flames as they consumed wood. Its mesmerizing qualities completely captured my attention. I loved the look, the smell, the sound of fire—I still do.
As a teen, I learned that a campout was not a campout without a roaring fire. We sat around it and talked, sang, ate, and just stared into the dazzling light show that both warmed us and lit our night.
I read about Native Americans of the Plains, marveling at their ability to eke fire from wood. Using Larry Dean Olsen’s Outdoor Survival Skills, I began to practice making fire with pieces of wood that I collected and shaped into a bow and drill. After a few hundred attempts, I was finally able to create a flame from pieces of wood and my own muscle power. My study of fire had begun.
I hope the many lessons in this book inspire you to see your ability to control fire as a lifelong skill, one that our ancestors used to forge our world and one we still use today.
“The spread of civilization may be likened to a fire: first, a feeble spark, next a flickering flame, then a mighty blaze, ever increasing in speed and power.”
Fire is such a fundamental part of our daily life, and yet we often take it for granted. Pistons fire in our car engines to get us to work, pilot lights keep the flames of our natural gas heaters burning, gas ranges heat water for our morning coffee, and wood-burning stoves and campfires warm us from the inside out.
Our relationship with fire goes way, way back. And fire itself existed well before we came to rely on it. Although the source of Earth’s earliest fire isn’t known, a small, charred, leafless plant from nearly 420 million years ago is the earliest proof of fire’s existence. When conditions on Earth nearly 345 million years ago created an environment that could support woody plants and contained enough oxygen to sustain them, wildfires that resemble those we know today began to burn. When atmospheric conditions allowed for the growth of vast savannas, major fires spread.
Scholars still debate when humans began using fire with regularity; the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa may be one of the earliest sites of regular fire use by Homo erectus. But hard proof dates back to 300,000 to 400,000 years ago. In Israel, the Qesem Cave harbors evidence of the repeated use of a single hearth, where early humans roasted meat.
The adoption of fire changed the course of history. It enabled more advanced tools, extended our days, facilitated agriculture, and altered diets. The pattern of our days was no longer dictated by the sun’s rise and fall; the light and warmth of fire allowed us to work and socialize deep into the night and to rise before dawn. Through cooking and smoking, fire allowed us to eat more meat and protein. It enabled us to forge sturdy tools, like pots, that increased our ability to store, cook, and carry food and water. As they still do, fires kept predatory animals and biting insects at bay. In addition to improving the everyday life of ancient people, fire became a mainstay of many religious and spiritual practices.
As one of the four classic elements, fire, with its ability to both create and destroy, is often a key element in many of the world’s religious beliefs. The ancient Greeks told the story of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give to man, thus creating civilization. A similar story was told by the Cherokee, with the role of fire giver being played by Grandmother Spider, while Hindus told a tale about the hero Mātariśvan.
This gift of the gods is still worshipped in many religions today. In Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest religions, no ritual is performed without the presence of fire, a symbol of their god and the illuminated mind. And many other religions regard fire with reverence and hold it as a mainstay of religious practices. Candles are lit at many Christian ceremonies, where the flame represents the Holy Spirit. Christians also believe the awesome power of fire will consume the world in its fiery end. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah involves lighting the nine candles (eight candles plus the shammash, the candle used to light the others) of the menorah to commemorate the miracle of the candle that burned for eight days. Many of the old religions focused heavily on the sun’s role in daily life, and though they regarded the sun as the Big Kahuna, the candles and lamps and altar fires were often symbols of the being who so profoundly affects all life on Earth.
Both symbolically and practically, fire is integral to our world. My goal with this book is to teach you to use fire in your world, both indoors and out.
“A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark.”
Picture candles illuminating a feast at a dining table, laughter filling the room; a family snuggled on the couch in front of the living room fireplace; or faces huddled close to a flickering campfire, the brightest light under a starry sky. Fires draw people together. And if you’re out camping alone, fires provide welcome comfort. Fires also dry clothes wet from rain, warm hands cold from snow, and cook coffee or soup. Through both their utilitarian and more ethereal functions, fires have a unique power to make everything good again.
And fires come with responsibility. We’ll make our way to learning where and how to build an ideal fire, but first, some safety tips.
Whether building your fire inside or out, safety is absolutely the most important consideration. Outdoors, when it comes to building a campfire, safety considerations mean being strategic about the location (foundation) and materials (fuel) that you use for your fire. When camping, make sure to check the posted rules in your area, as many municipalities prohibit open fires during spells of dry weather or drought in order to prevent forest fires. Inside, good fire safety could mean ensuring you’re using the proper fuel, that you have adequate ventilation, and that you take the correct precautionary measures to keep your chimney clean. In each section of this chapter, we’ll touch on good safety practices. But always remember to use common sense when working with fire.
When building a fire indoors, some important tools to have on hand for starting, maintaining, and extinguishing a fire are a metal poker, a shovel, and some sort of tin for removing ashes. Multiple fire extinguishers are necessary in case a fire gets out of hand. While fire extinguishers generally last between five and fifteen years, it’s a good idea to have yours serviced regularly to ensure it’s ready for you if you need it.
WHERE TO BUILD A FIRE
Much like real estate, building a successful fire is all about location, location, location. The most important factor in choosing the location of your fire—whether inside or out—is safety.
When it comes to building a fire outdoors, you’re likely to rely on a fire ring—something designed to keep fires contained and temper the impact of inclement weather on your flames. Fire rings can take many forms, but they’re always floorless—that is, built directly on the ground. To make the ring, you can use rocks, metal, concrete, or other nonflammable/heat-resistant materials. In established campsites where fires are permitted, you’ll likely find existing fire rings that you can use. Elsewhere, like your backyard or a primitive campground, you’ll need to build your own.
If you’re building a fire in a place without a fire ring, here are a few things to consider.
First: proximity. While the idea of a campfire right outside the flap of your tent may seem romantic, many of the materials used for older tents and sleeping bags are flammable. Many modern materials are fire-resistant but not fireproof and, at a minimum, are easily burned by embers. If possible, place your tent or shelter upwind of the fire and no closer than ten feet from it.
Second: foundation. Don’t build the fire ring on thick duff—that soft, spongy layer on the forest floor made of decomposing leaves, sticks, and other organic materials. The ground should be flat and compact. Prepare the area by clearing a three-foot circle of all leaves, grass, and brush to the bare ground. Then, add a layer of dirt three to four inches thick.
Third: what’s overhead. Look up and around you. Ensure there are no trees or shrubs hanging overhead or within a ten-foot radius.
BUILDING A FIRE INSIDE
- On Sale
- May 7, 2019
- Page Count
- 128 pages
- Black Dog & Leventhal