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Field Notes

Matchless Fire Starting


The crackling, the silhouettes and the rustling of burning logs. These are what makes a campfire more than just a heat source. The fire is the focal point of the camp, drawing everyone around to share stories and stare into the flickering flames. The heat radiated from a fire is only appreciated once you leave the ring to get a beer or visit a bush. Appreciating what a fire provides during its short life, urged me to explore different ways of starting it. I wanted to get away from the ease and instantaneous result of using matches or a lighter. During my first attempt, thoughts crossed my mind along the lines of 'why bother when you could use a lighter', however with some perseverance and patience I cracked it. Once the tinder was smoking and flashing away, the rewarding feeling began to sink in. With just a spark and some carefully selected tinder, the crackling and popping began. 

It began with a cotton wool bud, gently pulled around the edges. Applying some petroleum jelly to the centre extends burning time as it acts as a wick. This gives you more time to build the flames by gradually adding tinder. To get the fire started, a wooden block with a strip of PyroFlint was held slightly above the cotton wool. A few strikes from the steel against the flint showered sparks over the cotton wool. A puff of smoke confirmed that at least one spark had landed and ignited the cotton. With a sense of panic and excitement, it was time to start building the fire. To keep the fire going and increase the area of it, some wood shavings were added which were taken from the joinery workshop of the farm we were camping on. The next layer was some long grass which was gathered in the morning and left to dry through the day. Sticks snapped into 6" lengths were the next victim to be consumed by the now smouldering and flaming fire.

As the fire developed, it became a little less sensitive to what was thrown on it. In the early stages it's easy to suffocate the flames by overloading it with too much fuel. As the fire matures with the aid of some lung bursting blows, thicker and denser materials can be added. Within half an hour, wooden wedges were added and finally some logs which were locally felled. As the sun sank beneath the horizon, the flames arrived and the silhouettes danced.