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How I Safely Build a Fire

Aug 17, 2007
Ah, autumn! That time of year when you can smell that cold chill in the core of the air and you know that winter isn't too far off. Nothing beats a crystal clear blue sky, the crunch of leaves beneath your feet and the sounds of geese starting their long trek south. In celebration of this turning of the seasons, I decided to invite several close friends over for a small party.

We'd maybe start with a blood-pumping game of football, complete with spiced cider and hot chocolate on the sidelines. After that, perhaps there would be offerings of hot dogs and s'mores over an open campfire. Of course, my wife agreed that the food and football would be feasible, but when it came to the fire part, I got one of those looks that said, "You've got to be kidding me." Apparently, a New York boy couldn't possibly have fire building in his repertoire. I rose to the challenge. I would have a roaring bonfire capable of warming a small, third-world nation!

I started the process by recruiting my four-year old son to help me build an adequate dwelling for the fire. I did this because I remembered accidentally overhearing somebody who knew something about the outdoors say that it is very important to contain the fire, so that there is nothing close to it that might catch fire.

If a fire is built too close to bushes, trees, or people wearing clothing made of hemp, there is always a chance that the blaze could spread. Since we live in an area so heavily wooded that I sometimes get lost checking the mail, I figured that it would be wise to prevent the fire from spreading if it happened to be feeling frisky. We were fortunate enough to have several large stones at our disposal, so we placed them in a circle on our lawn.

I soon found myself obsessed with the idea of building more than just a house for the fire - I now wanted to create an altar of biblical proportions. I somehow convinced myself that we would need something large enough to hold a fire capable of roasting a wild boar.

Remembering that we would be cooking hot dogs and marshmallows instead of boars, I soon ditched my brief woodsman fantasy and got back in touch with reality. My son and I settled for a nice, little rock wall, about two feet high. It would more than suffice in containing our blaze.

That was when I came to speed bump number two; I had never started a fire before - at least not on purpose. Sticks, I thought. Two sticks rubbed together would work, because if MacGyver could do it, so could I. It turned out not to be as easy as it looked and less than thirty seconds of stick-rubbing later, I piled my son into the car and we were off to WalMart.

After picking up such modern conveniences as cedar blocks and lighter fluid, we headed back and tried starting our fire again. In the space of a few hours, we had the fire going. The weather turned out to be perfect, unusually cool for the time of year, and the party was a success.

Of course I wouldn't have put any Neanderthals to shame, but for a guy from the urban jungles of Central Park, I had to admit what I'd done wasn't half bad. Now the leaves of autumn are buried beneath the encroaching winter, but that rock wall my son and I built together is still standing. Every so often I find myself fighting the urge to remind my wife who built it.
About the Author
John Edmond runs and writes regularly for Living And Camping Outdoors where you can read many more articles on camp fires and outdoor living skills. Also go to Well Spoken Audio for a range of entertaining audiobooks on sports and much more.
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