High flames in dry conditions. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
A while ago I posted the above photo from my phone to the Frontier Bushcraft Facebook page
It shows Ian Lawson giving a fire-lighting demonstration (under nice, dry conditions) on our award-winning Bushcraft and Survival Foundation Course
We received many good-natured, tongue-in-cheek comments about the apparent height of the flames, some asking if we'd set the fire on top of an oil well or gas main.
We also received a handful of negative comments, criticising the height of the flames and that it was "irresponsible"
to light fires like this.
It certainly would be irresponsible to light any
fire under certain - very dry - conditions. Every year we seem to witness the devastation caused by wildfires in parts of the US and bushfires in Australia.
But this wasn't the basis of the criticism. It was purely that the flames were "too big".
Unfortunately this type of armchair punditry is all too common these days.
When it comes to outdoor skills, arbitrary opinions formulated with no basis in experience are potentially dangerous.
Just because someone has an opinion, doesn't make it valid.
What validates a practical technique - for any of us - is that it works (and works consistently).
Why We Teach Fire-Lighting The Way We Do
There is a very clear and solid reason why we teach fire-lighting the way we do.
It works in the rain.
Roll forward a year from the above photo and we had a very wet start
to one of our Frontier Bushcraft Taster Courses
In very wet conditions, Henry Landon
gave a textbook demonstration of fire-lighting.
He used only natural materials collected from the surrounding forest and a single match to light the fire
Henry explaining the principles of the fire-lay to a soggy-looking group. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Henry talks through the use of matches to light small-stick fires. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Course participants test the strength of matches. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Henry takes his match to the kindling. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Flames take hold at the base of the kindling. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Keeping the sticks long allows Henry to manipulate the bundles of kindling. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
With flames coming through the finest kindling, Henry is poised to add the next size of fuel. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
The heat of the smallest sticks drives off the moisture of the larger ones (and creates smoke). Photo: Paul Kirtley.
In warm, dry conditions this fire would be flaming like the first photo in this article; in wet conditions - under which most inexperienced people would fail - this methodology consistently secures a fire. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
You don't need to be in a survival situation for the ability to light a fire in wet conditions to be valuable.
is one of the biggest risks outdoors.
You could just be at the end of a long hard day on a canoe expedition
Moreover, if you can't
get a fire going when you are a long way out in wild country, it could become
a survival situation.
The time you most need a fire is generally when it is hardest to light one.
So it's not irresponsible to teach fire-lighting this way. It would be irresponsible not
to teach it the way we do.
It's actually our responsibility
to teach fire-lighting in a way that gives our clients the best chances of getting a fire going in the worst conditions they could encounter. That's our job as instructors - to teach real-world skills for real-world situations.
That's why we teach fire-lighting the way we do.
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Paul Kirtley is owner and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog
as well as for various publications including Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine.