Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fire is Life

There are so many benefits to being able to get a fire started when you need one that I thought I'd post a few of my thoughts on that subject. Here are ten reasons you need to be able to make a fire in a survival situation:
  • Warmth for your body — No matter where you are, it gets cold at night. Deserts are notoriously cold after the sun goes down, even if was blazing hot during the day. There is a misconception that the tropics are nice and warm at night. This is fueled by the fact that the temperature might hover in the 70s all night long. But the thermometer does not tell the whole story. You must factor in the reality that there is nearly always wind and dampness to deal with in the tropics, and those are the deadly duo that bring on hypothermia. Even in the tropics, a fire is useful for staying warm. 
  • Dry your clothes — If your clothes get wet, you'll be miserable…no matter where you are. In some cases, it will go way beyond misery and result in death. "Stay dry or die" is not a cliche, it's a reality. 
  • See in the darkness — One survival rule is that you need to start making camp early in the afternoon. The reason for this is because there's a lot to do and you want to get it all accomplished before darkness falls. After dark, it's much more difficult to get the work done, and a much higher risk of injury as you bump into thing, trip over stuff, or wander off and get lost. Having the ability to see in the radius of your campsite after dark is a huge benefit that can be provided by a campfire. 
  • Allow others to see where you are — Perhaps even more important than you being able to see around camp is the ability for others to see where you are. If you're in a non-military survival situation, you want to let the world know your location as soon as possible. A campfire at night will pinpoint your spot to search parties who are looking for you. 
  • Purify your drinking water — One sure way to kill off all the organic contaminants in drinking water is by bringing it to a rolling boil for one minute. The most common water-related problems in the outdoors are Giardia and Cryptosporidium, both of which are eliminated by boiling the water. Inorganic contaminants such as chemicals and heavy metals are not eliminated by boiling, but in the backcountry those are of lesser concern.
  • Cook your food — A hot meal makes a lot of difference to the way you think and feel about your situation, boosting morale and adding energy. Sure, you can survive on raw or cold foods, but if you can heat it up over a cheery campfire, life seems so much more manageable. 
  • Make hot drinks — A warm drink is more important than merely cheering you up…it also delivers important warmth to the core of your body, helping prevent hypothermia. A secondary benefit is derived by adding hydration. Both hypothermia and frostbite are promoted by dehydration, so keeping yourself hydrated will help prevent those devastating conditions. 
  • Push back the psychological demons — Night can be spooky. Every noise is a monster, and at night the wildlands are filled with sound, as nocturnal hunters come out to take care of their own survival needs. If you can fill your campsite with the light of a fire, you'll feel more secure. That will help you remain calm and keep a level head. If you get scared out of your wits, you might panic and make poor decisions that can lead to disaster.  
  • Make a warm bed — If you clear the ground of all combustible materials and then build a spread-out fire over the soil, you can dry the ground and warm it up a bit to become a more comfortable place to sit or lie down to sleep. After the ground is dry and warm, go ahead and spread pine duff or other dry materials over it to build up a mattress. The best solution is to build a hot rock bed, which I talked about in a previous post on June 9, 2010. 
  • Discourage predators from entering your camp — Generally, wildlife shuns contact with humans. But accidents happen when wildlife and humans stumble upon each other. One way to prevent animals from happening upon you in the darkness is to maintain a fire that will show them where you are. 

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