Dec 09 2008

Great Balls of Fire! A Simple Fire Starter You Can Make

Fire has warmed my cold bones many a time, and for years I never set out for the woods or waters without a twist of birch bark in my pack. After all, waterproofed matches and fire starters both figure prominently among the Ten Essentials, and I preferred birch bark—peeled from dead, downed trees only!—to foul-smelling chemical concoctions with names I couldn’t spell. That said, there’ve been a few times when birch bark has let me down. Then I’ve wished for something I could put together at home that would help me defy the worst assaults of wind and rain. Don’t get me wrong. I take pride in being able to start a fire with one match (or one flick of my butane lighter), even in a downpour. If pressed hard, however, I’ll confess that I’ve sometimes lit a candle when all else failed. Here’s the drill: I place a one-inch candle stub beneath a carefully crafted teepee of tinder and kindling. Then I light the wick. The candle flame dries out the dampest tinder, and soon the kindling catches fire, too. That’s that. In just a few minutes I’ll be toasting my fingers in front of a roaring blaze.

Of course, a candle stub is usually overkill, which is why I reserved it for the most difficult conditions—worst-case scenarios, in other other words, days when hypothermia was more than a theoretical possibility. At other times birch bark usually lit my fire. But I was never entirely happy with that alternative, either. I like to tread lightly in the backcountry, and stripping bark from trees—even dead, downed trees—leaves me feeling a bit uneasy. So it was back to candle stubs. Or was it? There’s something in my parsimonious nature that makes me reluctant to sacrifice a candle to light a fire. I started looking for a better way. And I found it. Enter “Great Balls of Fire.” Read how to make your own green firestarters…