A fire starter may save a life

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Dennis Clay

This is the first of a two-part series about fire starters.

Starting a survival fire is a lifesaving skill. This fire may well keep a lost person alive through a cold night or nights in the Great Outdoors. The trick is to make sure the fire-making tools are in the backpack before beginning the hunt, hike or fishing trip.

The idea seems simple, all a person needs is a match or other heat source. This is not entirely true. Remember, a fire needs heat, fuel and oxygen to burn. These three things are known as the fire triangle.

A match is the most common source of heat when lighting a fire. A flint and steel can also be used. This was a common fire-starting tool for the pioneers and mountain men. Today we have several types of commercial flint and steel tools and I carry one in my backpack.

This particular tool was discontinued by the company. I called and asked why such a practical tool was no longer produced. The company representative told me there just wasn’t enough being sold.

He said the hunters back east don’t get lost as the land is more populated, with a house every mile or less, and the terrain not as mountainous or dangerous as the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. A person back east who was disoriented could simply walk in any direction and find a house or a road, within a mile, and not become lost for long.

The fuel part of the triangle is some sort of tinder, which is defined as a flammable and dry material used for lighting a fire. This could be newspaper, dry grass, some types of tree bark, such as from a birch tree, cattail fluff and any dry material, which is easily ignited with a simple spark. The pioneers and mountain men were known to carry tinder with them, because it may be difficult to find dry tinder during their adventures.

This tinder was carried in a tinderbox, which contained the tinder, flint and steel. A friend recently told me he was taught to carry a tinderbox containing the tinder, flint, steel and a candle.

The idea was to use the flint and steel to start a fire using the tinder. As soon as the fire was started, the candle was ignited and the tinder was extinguished and, again, stored in the tinderbox. The candle could then be used to start a larger fire. It was then snuffed and placed in the box. This is a great idea. The Death Ram and the Jeep will have at least a birthday candle or two along on every adventure.

These days it would not be a bad idea to carry some sort of tinder. But most of us have some sort of paper along, even toilet paper makes good tinder. Some sort of fire starter will make the difference when trying to get a fire going.

A cotton ball was used during a fire-making demonstration at the Fairchild Air Force Base Survival School a few years ago. The instructor took a small resealable bag, sandwich size, and turned it inside out. He opened a jar of petroleum jelly, placed his hand in the plastic bag, reached into the jar and grabbed a handful of jelly. Remember the bag was inside out.

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