Last January, David Crockett of Charlotte, NC visited the majestic Shining Rock Wilderness for a day hike along with one of his closest friends.
After a day of hiking, the two friends became lost and had completely run out of food and water they brought for their trip.
To make matters worse, as the night set in, temperatures dropped below freezing, accompanied by more than a foot of snow that blanketed the region.
With nighttime approaching, the men prepared to spend the evening in the wilderness and built a small fire in the snow with the little provisions they had left, including a Bic lighter.
At one point, the men were able to get a cell signal and called 911. After the emergency call was placed several volunteer rescuers began searching for the two men.
After a full day of searching, with no luck finding the two missing hikers, local officials asked the state for assistance using helicopters.
Around 5 P.M., on the second day of searching, a helicopter with the Highway Patrol was able to locate the two missing hikers using thermal imaging technology.
The problem was the helicopter was running low on fuel and had to return to the airport immediately after locating the hikers.
As night fell again, another helicopter team responded to the location where the hikers were first found.
As luck would have it, the second helicopter was unable to visually locate the hikers and they remained stranded in the wilderness.
Next, authorities requested the assistance of the National Guard, which happen to have a helicopter with thermal imaging that was conducting training exercises in the area.
According to North Carolina Management Director Mike Sprayberry, “With below-zero temperatures expected, time was running out.”
The pilot of the third helicopter was Capt. Christopher Arndt, a member of the North Carolina Army National Guard, who spotted a small flickering light on the ground.
Capt. Arndt stated, “When we zoomed in to that light, we discovered that it wasn’t a strobe. It was a faint Bic lighter flame from the lost hikers.”
Once the hikers were located again, the decision was made to airlift them out of the area to a nearby hospital.
Both men survived the ordeal with bumps and bruises, along with frostbite to their toes and fingers.
These two men are lucky to be alive after spending three days in the snow packed wilderness with very few supplies.
There is no doubt that building a fire with their Bic lighter, along with signaling the helicopter, saved these men.
With that in mind, I want to discuss some tips for building a fire in the snow, when your life is on the line.
Pick the right spot.
If you are stranded outside during a snowstorm and need to build a fire, common sense would probably lead you to find a tree, where there is less snow on the ground.
While this isn’t a bad idea, you need to consider what the heat from the fire will do to the tree above it.
If you get a strong fire going it may melt the snow above it, leading to the fire getting wet and being put out.
In other words, if you find a great spot under a tree, make sure you shake the snow off the tree before starting your fire.
Build a base.
When you are building a fire pit in the snow, you don’t want the fire to sit on top of the snow.
What I mean is, even if you are sitting on 10 feet of hard packed snow, the fire will melt the snow below it and will just sink.
For this reason, try to find a solid base to build your fire on top of such as rocks piled together.
If all you have is wood, you can build a base by crossing sticks and then building a teepee of firewood on top of that.
The key is to keep the fire out of the snow and faraway enough that it’s not melting the snow below to the point that the fire is sinking.
Keep it going.
Once you have the location and base to build your fire, you should start collecting kindling.
Of course, the wood nearby may be wet, so you may have to take small kindling and whittle it down with a knife until it’s dry enough to burn.
Once you get the fire going, that last thing you want to do is to let it burn out so make sure you are constantly feeding it day and night.
Since staying warm is going to be your priority, another thing you can do is place rocks in the fire to heat up and them put them in your sleeping bag or near you to provide more warmth.
Lastly, coals provide the most amount of heat, so always continuously feed the fire to make sure you are creating more and more heat, which will hopefully keep you warm enough to survive.