Fire-lighting is one of the most essential skills in any camping, wilderness, or survival situation. And, depending on the type of tinder you use, there are many ways in which a fire can be lit.
But first let’s get one thing straight; you CAN get a fire going by rubbing two sticks together (fire by friction), but it takes a LOT of practice and elbow grease, and it is time consuming.
So, let’s look at the various options available to you if your lighter has run out of fuel and the matches are wet.
Just because the lighter has run out of fuel does not mean that it should be discarded. If the tinder is fine enough, and bone dry (which it should be), or you have some char cloth, even the spark from a lighter is enough to ignite it. And it can be used time and time again.
This is an extremely popular way of fire lighting, and easily mastered. Basically, a Ferro rod is a metallic material which, when struck with a striker, produces very hot sparks − in excess of 3000oC. Place the tinder on a dry leaf or piece of bark. Place the Ferro rod against the tinder and scrape down the rod with the attached piece of steel, or with the back of a knife, to produce sparks. The sparks will ignite the tinder. Gently blow on it to produce a glowing ember and flame.
Flint and steel
In some areas, pieces of flint can be found lying around. These can be used in a similar way to the fire steel. Strike them with a piece of carbon steel, or the back of a knife (stainless steel will not produce a good spark), and the sparks will ignite very fine pieces of dry tinder. When a spark has caught the tinder, gently blow on it to create a flame.
Magnesium fire starter
Essentially, this is a block of magnesium with a built-in fire striker. Scrapings of magnesium are added to tinder and ignited by a spark from the fire striker. Magnesium burns very hot, at almost 3000oC, and will ignite even when wet.
A small block is sufficient to start hundreds of fires. If you pack only one alternative means of starting a fire, pack this one. It will never let you down.
A magnifying glass, or lenses from binoculars, a camera, or other optical device can be used to direct sunlight onto the tinder. Angle the lens to concentrate the sun’s rays onto the tinder. Hold the lens over the same spot until the tinder begins to smoulder. As a tinder glows red, introduce it to the birds-nest of kindling, and gently blow or fan the tinder into flame.
It is also possible to light tinder in a similar way with a bottle or bag of water, or a condom filled with water. But this takes an awful lot of practice.
A battery from a camera, torch, mobile phone or portable light can be used as a fire lighter. It should ideally be at least a 9-volt battery, so several may need to be joined together.
Basically, what you need to do is to short the battery out somehow. A piece of thin wire, a thin strip of tinfoil or a gum wrapper held on each terminal will generate a spark. If using tinfoil or gum wrapper, tear out a small indent about halfway down the strip. This is the point where the tinfoil will short out. Or you can use a piece of wire wool.
Sugar and potassium permanganate
Mixing one part sugar with nine parts potassium permanganate will create a chemical reaction resulting in a flame. You may either wrap the two chemicals together in a piece of paper and then scrunch the paper between your hands (be careful not to burn yourself, as the reaction can be very quick), or you may grind them together with a piece of stick or between two rocks.
Or you may add about a tablespoon of antifreeze to a bundle of tinder, and sprinkle a teaspoon of potassium permanganate over it. DO NOT HOLD the bundle, as the chemical reaction works like an ignited firework.
Potassium permanganate is often carried in survival kits to be used for water purification, and can also be used as an antiseptic; it is quite a versatile chemical.
Always light the fire from the upwind side, and make sure that the tinder is bone dry. If it’s not, you will never get the fire lit. The tinder is needed to provide the initial heat required to start the fire burning. And practise fire-lighting using different methods – don’t become reliant on just one. I see so many people stumped about how to light a fire if the lighter has packed up or the matches are damp or all used. Finally, practise in different weather conditions; the conditions will not be ideal every time that you need fire.
By Paul Donovan