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  • Paul Tappenden

Starting a Fire in the Rain

I am always pleased, when I am successfully able to put my survival abilities into practice. After all, I have spent many long and often very uncomfortable hours, learning and practicing primitive skills, in preparation for the times when they may become of use. I learned a valuable lesson about fire making that would have proven to be a total failure had it not been for my well practiced survival skills.

After clearing out some woods, I had a lot of brush that now needed burning. The problem was that it was raining, and had been for some time. Not to be daunted, I put a pile of the brush in the middle of a clearing, and doused it with camping fuel. It blazed and crackled, and I was pleased with my solution to the problem. However, after about five minutes, all I had was a smoldering mess. Several more attempts convinced me that this wasn’t the way to go.

At this point, I decided to draw upon my primitive fire making knowledge, and I set off in search of the necessary items. The first useful thing I found was a fallen Silver Birch tree, shedding its bark in sheets. I used my knife to remove large swatch, about a foot square, and took another couple of smaller pieces just for luck.

Next, I found a live Silver Birch with fine shreds of pealing bark, and gathered enough to fill my pocket. I was able to snap some dead, lower branches from the Hemlock trees. Even though they were damp, I knew they’d burn, once I had the flame going, and they’d certainly burn easier than the ones that lay on the ground.

I continues a little further along the trail, until I came across the thing I was looking for, a White Pine that had been damaged in a storm, that was oozing its sticky sap. Using a piece of Hemlock twig, I scraped a chunk off and smeared it onto a piece of the Birch bark. With this collection of oddly assembled objects, I stumbled awkwardly back to the clearing.

At my campsite, nearby, I had stored some dry twigs for my camp fire. I figured that I could use some of them for the initial kindling in my brush fire, until I got a blaze going. Now that I had all my fire fixin’s, it was time to tackle the problem at hand.

I went over to my pile of brush and made a little opening at the bottom. Inside this, I created a small shelter with a roof made from the oil rich Birch Bark. On the damp ground, I placed a small square of dry bark, on top of which, I carefully positioned the piece of the bark smeared with the Pine resin, and sprinkled it liberally with the paper thin shreds of oil rich bark. Next, I carefully erected a small pyramid of twigs over the pile of tinder, keeping another bunch on hand to feed the young flames. The final touch was to place a small pile of milkweed fluff at the front of the tinder pile. I was ready!

The purpose of the Milkweed fluff (that I always carry in an Altoid can, in my vest) was that, I felt this fire deserved a meaningful introduction into the world. I briefly considered using a bow drill, but that would really have been pushing it (in the rain!). So I settled for using my trusty flint and steel, to create a spark. This method required something that would catch light very easily, and Milkweed fluff was just the stuff. After that, I knew that the other tinder would catch, beginning with the shreds of Birch bark which would set the Pine pitch burning and so on.

It all went as planned, and before long the “roof” of the shelter was ablaze. Within twenty minutes the entire pile was burning and I was feeding it fresh brush. Despite the light, but steady rain, I was able to burn all the brush. I felt a great sense of achievement, and I was glad of my survival knowledge, and how it saved the day.

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