Fires have moods, I’m sure of it. Some days my fire is sluggish and cold and on other days it burns out too quickly. Some days it’s perfect. It is not always predictable either – it is combinations of weather and temperature, damp in the soil, air movement, type of wood, water content of the wood. Don’t be disheartened if one day your fire isn’t perfect. In time, you will be more able to determine what the fire needs to get it burning just right. I am definitely still learning.
Before you start to light your fire it is so important to pick the right spot. Underneath your neighbour’s washing is not a good spot. There are places you are not allowed to light fires, please check the rules, and if you want to leave the area looking the way you found it, cut a turf before you start. This can be replaced once you have extinguished your fire.
If you have children with you, it is always a good idea to delineate a boundary. I am a firm believer that children learn from their mistakes, and if we don’t let them, we are setting them up for greater problems in the future. But be sensible – it is your responsibility to keep your children safe. I build a ring round the fire from stone that no-one is allowed over and the worst incident I have had is a melted wellington boot – and that was an adult who should have known better.
Make sure you have the kindling to hand (a page about what makes good kindling is imminent), small dry sticks to start your fire, and bigger dry sticks to put on once the fire has got going. I also use natural firelighters – when your family is hungry, they don’t tend to want to wait for you to rub two sticks together. Unless the challenge is to light a fire from only tinder and sparks, give yourself a break. Help with lighting the fire is not a cop out when everyone is hungry and grumpy.
If the ground is wet, I find lying a little raft of sticks down first helps. Then put on the firelighter and arrange the kindling on top. Arrange dry twigs in a little wigwam around the kindling and light the fire lighter. I find a liquid gas candle/fire lighter (similar to cigarette lighters but with a long neck above the ignition button so you don’t burn your fingers) is more reliable than matches if there is any sort of wind. As soon as the kindling catches, the race is on. You need to gently add slightly larger twigs to the wigwam, and increase their size as the fire takes hold.
And there you have it. A fire.
There are many ways of building a fire (a page showing methods and shapes of fire building is imminent). Experiment and see what best suits you and the place you are lighting your fire. But the one thing I have found to be the most important thing of all is having a reasonably dry supply of wood. It makes all the difference – unless you are burning holly that is.
I like to keep a bucket of water by the fire in case of burns. Use the water afterwards to douse the fire – don’t leave a burning fire unattended. Remember to replace the turf afterwards if you took one up. Take all your rubbish home with you.