If emergency preparedness were looked at as if it were a building, there would be a few vital “bricks” like food and water that would make up the foundation of the building, while items like tactical sporks with built-in frequency-hopping radios could be looked at like decorative shutters. Decorative items like the shutters are not necessarily vital to survival and serve to enhance basic preparedness measures. But if a foundation brick were removed or missing, it would jeopardize the structural integrity of the survival structure.
One of these key elements to a solid survival foundation is fire — and not just because it is useful to make s’mores. During an emergency or disaster situation, fire will be a requirement to complete tasks that will be necessary to sustain life. This is especially true if there were to be a catastrophic failure of civil infrastructure systems. There are almost endless uses for fire, it seems; but some of the most important uses that aid in survival are:
- Heat: Depending on location, heat can be vital to maintain a core body temperature, even in the summer. Of course, the dead of winter requires heat to prevent injury, as well as provide comfort. Heat is also very important when looking at certain age groups, like young children and older adults.
- Light: Fire can provide light from candles and lanterns. Even a fire in the fireplace provides light. This is an important aspect of fire, especially in the event of a power outage.
- Cooking: Rice and beans are a staple of long-term food storage and also happen to taste much better if they are cooked. Access to a fire to prepare foods will go a long way in ensuring that nutrition is maintained during a disaster and in maintaining morale during difficult times.
- Purifying water: One of the time-tested methods of purifying dirty or contaminated water is boiling it. Boiling water ensures that it is safe for consumption and prevents the illnesses and diseases that are common following a disaster, when dirty water is often consumed out of desperation. This is also instrumental in minimizing preventable deaths.
- Forming tools: When tools like saws and chisels are not available, fire can be used to form pieces of wood into things like arrows and even canoes like the ones Native Americans made using fire to hollow out the center of logs. Metal tools like knives can also be formed using fire to shape and strengthen the material.
- Drying: Use fire to dry foods like fruits and vegetables for preservation and future use. Also use it to dry wet clothes.
- Smoke: Smoke is a great tool for preserving foods, especially in a survival situation, because smoked food products can be stored without refrigeration. While smoke is great for preserving food products, it can also be used as a way to repel insects or even signal others.
Take These Steps Now To Ensure That Fire Will Always Be At Your Disposal
Ensure that adequate supplies are available to start a fire in every emergency/survival kit that you have. Adequate supplies should include at least a primary way of starting a fire and a backup. This is a minimum requirement and the old survival adage “two is one, and one is none” applies here.
Stock up on fire-making provisions now while they are readily available.
The supplies that should be in your kits and stockpiled include:
- Ignition source: Pack something that will flame or spark. There are several ways to produce a flame or spark to start a fire, but the best methods are using a lighter or waterproof strike-anywhere matches (see editor’s note) and are followed up by FireSteel (ferrocerium bar), magnesium bars, a 9-volt battery and steel wool, and a magnifying glass or Fresnel lens. This list is not all-inclusive, but it eliminates the more labor-intensive methods of fire-starting, like bow drills.
- Accelerant: The key to getting a fire started in inclement circumstances (wet weather, wind, etc.) is to have a good accelerant to push through until the main fuel source can catch. While many accelerants that come to mind are liquid fuels, these are not practical for survival kits and lack the stability necessary to transport. There are many products available in the sporting goods or camping section of the local big box store that are built specifically for this purpose. Examples of an accelerant include trioxane or hexamine tablets that are often marketed as fuel tablets for hiking stoves as well as WetFire cubes and other products. A great improvised accelerant is hand sanitizer, which burns easily as a result of the high alcohol content.
- Tinder: While similar to accelerants in some ways, tinder is typically more susceptible to outside interference from environmental factors. Basic forms of tinder can be shaved wood, wax-soaked gauze pads, shreds of cloth, char cloth or even toilet paper. It is typically a good idea to have both tinder and accelerants as part of a fire-making kit and then use accelerants only when necessary. You would not want to use all of your accelerants during good weather and be stuck with wet toilet paper to start a fire outside in the middle of a storm.
An example of a basic fire kit would be a weatherproof container, Bic style of lighter, waterproof strike-anywhere matches, FireSteel, small emergency candle, petroleum-soaked cotton balls, wood shavings, char cloth and a couple of hexamine tablets.
Another important item worth mentioning is the container in which these fire-making supplies are stored. I previously made mention of an ammo can or weatherproof container to store strike-anywhere matches in; but this principle applies to all fire-making materials, regardless if they are in a bug-out bag or car kit, etc. It is imperative to protect these supplies from the elements — even if the container is as simple as a resealable bag inside of another one for extra protection. This could be the difference between being able to survive or not.
Finally, make a plan for where to have a fire if it becomes necessary to start one. While a fireplace is ideal, not all homes are equipped with one. This makes it necessary to plan for a way to have a fire, regardless of the circumstances. The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that fire, while useful, is dangerous. Don’t have a fire inside unless there is a proper location with a heat-tolerant surround and an exhaust system. If these two items are not both present, build a location outside that will prevent fire from spreading on the ground and or to surrounding buildings or vegetation. A great back-up fire plan is to clear a 6-foot-diameter space on the ground all the way down to bare earth. Ensure that the spot is not under any trees and not within 100 feet of a building. Once the spot is clear, build a fire ring from rocks or landscape blocks where the fire can be built. This will ensure that your fire will not be a threat, while still serving its purpose. While many of the methods for starting a fire that were listed here seem like they may be aimed toward the adventurer or outdoorsman, it seems to me that if you can start a fire in the outdoors it should be even easier to start a fire in a fireplace.
Regardless of the season or location, fire is a necessary tool. A hot summer night may still require a fire to keep away insects or other wildlife, just like the street corner in New York City may have a burn barrel on it to stay warm by if things hit the fan. Since fire has been with us, man has continuously used it to survive. There is no way to escape the need for fire. And the only useful survival kit is one that includes at least two ways to do everything, including the ability to start a fire.
Editor’s note: Strike-anywhere matches are getting very hard to find, and many rumors are circulating about companies ceasing production of them. Because of that, it is vital to stock up strike-anywhere matches now, if you can find them. They are not expensive, and they will keep well in an ammo can or other weatherproof container. These will be worth their weight in gold if things ever fall apart.