Earlier this month, the Eagle Creek Fire broke out in Oregon, so far burning over 40,000 acres. The police have identified a 15-year old boy who is believed to have been setting off fireworks, which started the massive blaze. Obviously, this kid made a stupid mistake but we can’t ignore the fact that he has put lives in danger and caused a massive loss of property.
In addition, the fire stranded over 140 hikers in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, but these hikers stuck together hiking as a group and making sure that no one was left behind. Due to the severity of the approaching wildfire, a helicopter dropped directions to the hikers so they could find the safest way out. As they hiked into the night the group was eventually met by firefighters who led them to safety, while the fire reached within 300 yards of the group of hikers. The reality is, people are carelessly starting fires and even in a survival situation, you need to consider the ramifications of starting a fire that you might not be able to keep under control.
Obviously, I realize when you’re in survival mode you become desperate but there are still a few considerations for keeping yourself and others safe. Remember, this fire is supposed to help you survive, not put your life at greater risk.
- Build your fire at least 15 feet away from trees, shrubs, or anything that could spread the fire. Also, don’t forget to check above, because you want to make sure there aren’t any low hanging tree branches that could catch fire. I know a lot of people will want to build a fire near logs or other things they can sit on but this can literally add fuel to the fire. So while it might be more comfortable you shouldn’t be near anything that could burn. (Drag the logs you want to sit on over to the fire, instead of bringing the fire to you.)
- Consider what would happen if a wind gust came through the area where you built your fire. Basically, is it on top of a ridge where the wind can blow it out of control and catch other things on fire? Ideally, you want to minimize the amount of exposure to the wind so if possible you should be near a hillside or mountain.
- Prepare the ground where you plan to build the fire. You should remove all the leaves, pine needles, twigs, and grass. You want to only have dirt and everything else should be moved a safe distance away. Of course, in a survival situation I probably wouldn’t take the time or energy to dig a fire pit but you can easily clear the area so that your fire will be built on dirt.
- Be ready to put the fire out at a moments notice. Let’s say you need to keep moving to survive and can’t stay until the fire burns completely out. Of course, the best thing to do would be to pour water on the fire, however, if you weren’t near a water source I wouldn’t recommend this because you need to save your water for drinking. So, if you aren’t near a river or water source the next best thing to do is to add dirt to the fire and stir it with a stick. You should also try to separate the fire, which will help it cool down quicker. In other words, if you separate the coals they will be more exposed to the outside temperature and will cool down faster than if you simply leave them in a pile.
- Keep your fire manageable. If you were ever involved in Boy Scouts you probably remember going camping and building huge roaring fires that you added wood to all night to keep them going. Well, in an emergency, you really don’t need a huge fire and should build a smaller fire that you can maintain and keep under control. A small fire will still provide heat and can be used for cooking more easily as a larger fire. The thing is, when the time comes for you to leave the area you don’t want to leave a large fire still burning.
In a survival situation, most of us will do whatever we have to do to survive and make it out safely. However, if you take a few precautions when building your fire you could avoid the costly mistake of starting a massive wildfire.