Wildwood Survival website

Tracker Knife
Pitch & Glue
Lyme Disease
Native People
Emergency Prep
Young People
Wilderness Mind
Site Disclaimer
About this site
Use of material
Privacy Policy
HomeSurvivalFireFire Basics

General steps to make a fire

Here are the general steps to make, maintain, and end a fire (any fire, any method):

  1. Choose and prepare a location for the fire.
  2. Gather fuel.
  3. Pile some of the fuel in an appropriate manner where the fire is to be situated, ready to be lit.
  4. Ignite some material, usually tinder. This is usually the most difficult (and critical) step.
  5. If necessary, depending on the fire-starting method, blow the tinder into a small flame.
  6. Transfer the flame from the tinder to the actual fire.
  7. Build up the fire by adding fuel.
  8. Maintain the fire as needed.
  9. Put out the fire.

1. Location

Generally, the location for your fire is a balance of many different factors:

  • close to fuel source
  • located on a non-burnable surface (bare rock is best)
  • located away from burnable materials (such as very dry branches close overhead, or dry grasses nearby)
  • convenience of the location (for example, close to your camp)
  • but not in the way, either -- you don't want to have to navigate carefully around a fire that is squarely in everyone's way.
  • wind direction and speed (wind can blow the fire onto neighboring burnable materials, such as dry brush)
  • whether you need to hide the fire or not
  • proximity to a means of extinguishing the fire (such as water)
  • safety

From Allan "Bow" Beauchamp...

Here my son Nicholas has been shown the proper technique for building a pit fire shelter for dry weather in thick brush.


2. Gather fuel

Dry wood of course makes the best fuel (aside from other types that you may contemplate using in a survival situation). There are two kinds of "dry":

  • dry, as in wood that has been dead long enough for the sap to leave, and the wood to become more brittle.
  • dry, as in not wet with water (rain, ground dampness, water from streams or lakes).

Standing dead wood is usually the best source of dry wood for any fire. Dry dead branches will burn best, and are also the easiest to harvest.

If it has been raining , then you have to become more creative, looking for dry wood under things, or within things. For example, under rock overhangs, or dense branches. or using the insides of branches that are wet only on the outside.

You will need to gather fuel of different sizes. Small stuff is used to start the fire, and larger branches (larger diameter, that is) are used to maintain the fire once it gets going.

It's easiest in the long run to sort the fuel into piles based on size. Break the wood up into pieces that are the right size to use for your fire. This little bit of prep work may sound like a bit more work than is necessary, but it makes things easier later on.

Place your fuel piles close enough that you can reach them conveniently, but far enough away that they won't ignite from sparks thrown from the fire, or if a piece of wood falls out of the fire. Also place the pile where you won't trip over it.

3. Prepare the fire

Assemble a small teepee of the thinnest twigs you can find in the center of your chosen fire location. Over this layer some larger twigs. Over that some larger ones, and so on. But stop for now with twigs about the thickness of your index finger.

Leave a gap in this teepee -- a "door" -- where you can quickly insert your burning tinder, so it makes contact and ignites the smallest twigs of this teepee.

4. Ignite some tinder

This is where the various fire-making methods come into play. These are described in the Fire section of this site.

Generally speaking, you use some sort of fire making method to create and ignite a coal. With a bow drill fire, this small coal will be a tiny pile of fine sawdust that is glowing.

5. Blow the tinder into flame

Most of the time, a small coal is not enough to actually start a fire. It must be blown into flame for it to be useful.

The small coal you created in the preceding step needs to be transferred carefully to tinder. Tinder is some material that, when a coal is placed against it, can be blown into a flame.

6. Transfer the flame from tinder to the fire

Once you have blown the tinder into flame, you must transfer this very quickly to the waiting teepee of sticks. This is where that "door" comes in handy, to quickly get the small flames to the thinnest twigs, which will ignite most quickly.

7. Build up the fire

Once you small teepee of sticks has ignited and is burning, you will need to quickly add larger pieces of wood to keep the fire going. If you simply leave it alone without adding any additional fuel, it will go out (unless you made one large teepee in step 3).

8. Maintain the fire

While the fire burns you need to add fuel from time to time, in order to keep it burning. Be reasonable and don't make a fire any larger than you need it to be.

9. Put out the fire

It is absolutely essential that the fire be 100% completely OUT before you leave it.

Plan ahead. If you have a fire for cooking, let it die down a bit when foresee that you will be soon finished your task. Similarly, a fire built for warmth on a cold evening -- let it die down a while before you go to bed.

There are many ways to put out a fire:

  • water is the most effective and easiest
  • snow
  • sand
  • pulling the fire apart and letting it simply go out

The fire and rocks surrounding the fireplace should be cool to touch before you leave. Do not consider the fire to be out until they are. Be "anal" about this. Overdo it. Don't listen to those who might be telling, "that's good enough", when the fire area is still warm.

Pay attention to the possibility that your fire has crept into the ground. It may continue to smolder underground in organic matter or roots. Check for this.

A fire that is not completely and thoroughly put out can potentially flare up later, perhaps even long after you have left the area. Or maybe that same night while you are asleep. A fire that was carelessly extinguished and flares back up can endanger your life and the lives of others, especially as no one may be around to put it out. Not to mention the lives of animals and plants of the surrounding ecosystem.

Water is the easiest and best method for putting out a fire. If you don't have any containers to bring water to the fire, then take the burning sticks (carefully) to the water and dowse them there. Soak clothing or other materials in water and wring them out over the fire. Improvise some sort of container.

Snow works well also, being frozen water. So too would ice. Make sure though, that the snow melts all over the fire and puts it out.

Sand is useful for smothering a fire as well. Other kinds of earth may be used as well, but there may be an issue with organic matter in soil that can smolder and later catch fire. Inorganic soil is best.

Or you can simply pull the fire apart and let it go out. This may take a while, though. It could be hours before you can be 100% sure that the fire is completely out.