According to the Greeks, fire was brought down by the God Prometheus and bestowed upon mankind allowing us to progress and develop civilization. Others claim that early hominids began controlling fire roughly 1.7 million years ago. Gift of the Gods or a product of evolutionary advancement, either way it is one of the most useful and most dangerous natural tools that humans now have at our disposal.
Most if not all people the world over know what fire is. The Google definition of fire is “Combustion or burning, in which substances combine chemically with oxygen from the air and typically give out bright light, heat, and smoke”. That definition strikes me as somewhat flat and falls short of describing what fire actually is. I prefer the description from howstuffworks.com ” Fire isn’t matter at all. It’s a visible, tangible side effect of matter changing form — it’s one part of a chemical reaction.” Matter changing form, this sounds more like an apt description to me.
To make a fire you will need a combination of fuel, oxygen and heat. The fuel can be anything combustible. Oxygen should be readily available in the atmosphere around you. Heat can be supplied in a variety of ways. Depending on the combustible material that you are working with the amount of heat will vary. Highly flammable items like gasoline fumes or oil soaked rags have been known to combust at the slightest provocation, while things like wet wood need a bit more encouragement.
Lets assume you have your fuel source, we’ll also assume that you are in an oxygen rich environment aka outdoors in a field. Now all we need to add is heat. Among the many sources of heat are focused light, friction, existing fire, electricity, or sparks. Lets take a look at each of these heat sources individually so we will know just how to utilize them when needed.
Archimedes set ships on the ocean ablaze using focused light. Parabolic reflectors represent a single person controlled version of that effort. Instead of lining up all of your friends and neighbors and asking them to all reflect light using a mirror at the same point in order to start your grill or light the Olympic torch. You can use a hand held parabolic reflector similar to the one I reviewed previously (provided to me by campingsurvival.com). You can focus the light using a Fresnel lens or a standard magnifying lens. Regardless of the way that you choose to focus the light, what you are doing is directing the energy of the light to a concentrated point. Once concentrated the light becomes intensely powerful and can be used very effectively to provide the heat necessary to start a fire.
Additionally there is a news article of a parking lot in London where the light from a newly constructed building was being blamed for melting cars and bikes. So yes, reflected light is indeed powerful.
Rubbing two sticks together has long been a staple of comic relief and amusement when it comes to making a fire. The rub comes from this actually being a way to start a fire (pun intended). Friction heat is the heat that results from the resistance of one object sliding over another object. The greater the resistance to the movement the greater the amount of friction heat. Popular methods of using friction heat are the fire bow and fireplow. These Methods have been around for centuries and while they require some effort and time they are proved to work. Both of these methods are variations on a theme; rub two pieces of wood together making sure to concentrate the heat in one place. These methods take practice and the more time you spend making fires using these methods now, the faster you’ll be at it when your cold, wet, and shivering wishing the fire was going already.
This one is really kind of a no brainer. If you already have a fire you can use the heat from it to start another fire. In fact this method is mentioned because of the propensity for fire to spread. If you create a fire you are responsible for its actions (much like children to a degree). Fires are hot by nature and so even when a fire is not visible the coals or embers from the fire still contain a lot of heat. you can add more fuel to the fuel oxygen heat mix and your fire will likely restart quite quickly.
Keeping a fire going can also be an important skill to practice. By using your existing fire to start a new fire you save the time it takes to begin a new fire as well as save the calories you would have spent starting a new fire. Fire bundles are one way to carry the heat from one fire to another location. As in all things related to fires, caution is highly advised.
You can use electricity to create heat in a variety of ways. The two most common ways are electric friction heat and electrical sparking. Electric friction heat is just what it sounds like, friction heat caused by electricity. You may not know this but you see electric friction heat in use everyday. The modern incandescent light bulb converts electricity to heat and light by exciting the atoms in the tungsten filament. As electricity passes through the filament the resistance to the electron moving though the tungsten creates heat. This heat build up and eventually the heat causes the filament to glow producing light. The same principle is at work when you short the batter of your walkie talkie or connect any battery to a short thin piece of wire. The electrons moving through the wire encounter friction and that friction creates heat.
If you have ever seen an electric arc or the sparks that come form incorrectly connected jumper cables you know how capable electricity is of making sparks fly. These sparks, like any other, are able to be directed to your fuel source and can ignite a fire.
Sparks of any kind can ignite a fire. having already covered electric sparks let’s go over sparks generated by striking a surface of fire-steel or flint. The sriking of flint causes small shavings of the metal to be scraped off. These shavings are heated in the scraping process by friction and because of the small size and but larger surface area, you are now looking at a glowing hot piece of flint. If this spark is directed to a waiting pile of tinder then you may find yourself with a fire. A popular spark based tool for starting fires is the magnesium firestarter. The magnesium fire starter is a great tool to use even in wet conditions. You create a pile of magnesium shavings(fuel) and set that on the larger pile of tinder(gaps in the tinder contain oxygen from the air). Then strike the flint portion and direct the sparks(heat) at the magnesium. The heat from the sparks should set the magnesium on fire and since magnesium burns at around 5000 degrees Fahrenheit the fuel under the magnesium should also ignite. That is pretty much all there is to it, but again with this or any other skill, practice, practice, practice.
Fire is a tool and should be respected. Fire can be dangerous and can quickly get out of your control. Careful controls should be set up to ensure not only your safety but the safety of those around you. Fires kill thousands of people every year. Please never start a fire you can’t put out and always have a plan to immediately extinguish the flame if things start to get out of control.