Paranoid Prepper’s Guide To Starting A Fire

Fire Starting

Since I submit a post once a week, I occasionally get surprised by the topic of a post coming up before I planned to submit my thoughts on the subject.  This week I have a post that had no particular urgency, until another post on the subject was submitted, and I found myself not quite on board with what was said, forcing me to hustle up completing this article.  It isn’t political though, so I hope it is okay with TPTB!  😊

A couple millennia ago, I was in the Boy Scouts.  As you work through the various badges in the Scouts, you learn skills.  Master the skills, get a badge.  😊   One of the early skills is starting a fire.  The requirement is to build the fire using only natural materials, no paper or starter fluid, and two matches, maximum.  This may sound pretty easy, but if you’re an 11 year old kid who has never done it before, it can be quite a challenge.  Once you get the hang of it, it becomes much easier to repeat the process.  If you haven’t mastered the process, even if you’re an adult and know what you’re doing, you may want some cheaters.  😊  These are convenient, but not required.


The first step in building a nice fire is to collect the fuel for the fire.  The tendency of your average 11 year old, or anybody else who hasn’t started a few fires, without charcoal lighter, is to collect some stuff for fuel, but not enough, attempt to start a fire and if by some miracle it starts, it then goes out because of lack of wood to chuck on to keep it going.

Patience is the solution.  Collect plenty of fuel.  The fuel should be dead wood from the forest floor.  There is no need to knock down anything live, and green wood burns poorly in any case.  Take your time building your fire lay.

Starting a fire is an activity where taking your time saves the time that would be wasted on failed attempts.

Fire Lays

The Scout Manual recommends setting up either a tiny “log cabin” or a “teepee” fire lay to start your fire.  Either of these constructs, made from small pieces of kindling, will ignite readily.  As you get the center built, progressively larger pieces of fuel can be added.  Just make sure you leave an opening to the center in order to be able to light the fire.

Dealing with Rain and Wet Surroundings

One challenge is dealing with wet surroundings.  However, even after a drenching downpour, the inside of dead wood is likely to be dry.  Split it open and cut some shavings and long thin kindling from the inside of larger pieces of wood.

The fact that your surroundings are wet is not a barrier to getting a fire going.

The 2 by 4 Challenge

An interesting illustration of what can be accomplished with a bit of fire starting practice is a competition used by the Boy Scouts.  A couple of strings are stretched at 18 inches high and 24 inches high.  A group of scouts is given a section of 2 by 4 and told to build a fire using only the 2 by 4.  The fire lay can not be built above the lower string and the competition ends when the upper string burns through.  The scouts have the usual two matches.  Not getting the fire started means you lose the competition.

Unfortunately, 2x4s don’t ignite easily and building a fire from a single 2×4 is, . . .  challenging.  The trick is to cut up the 2×4 into fuel ranging from highly ignitable shavings to long pieces that extend up to the lower string.  If you’ve done this a few times for practice, you can produce a roaring fire from a 2×4 in a surprisingly short period of time. 

The exercise demonstrates both the ability to start a fire, and the ability to handle simple cutting tools (hand axe, knives) safely.  (Safe handling of axes and fixed blade knives is covered by the “Totin’ Chip” badge.)


Fires are relatively easy to start with a bit of practice.  The key attribute is patience, which few people are able to muster until they have failed a few times.  Take your time.  Collect an ample supply of fuel.  Build your fire lay carefully.  Practice a few times.  Once you have your fire going, you are in a position to cook a meal, or just get warm.  You’ll be able to get a fire going if you follow this advice, and the Boy Scout manual.

Remember, Be Prepared!  😊

Paranoid Prepper


  1. I was a scout when I was a kid, I lived on the Olympic peninsula in Washington. It’s ALWAYS wet there. If you can set a fire going there, you can do it anywhere.

    Good stuff!

    • The eastern seaboard is not as notorious for wet weather as Washington, but we get the thrill of winter camping. A few inches of snow can add additional entertainment value to watching some kids try to start a fire.

  2. Disagreeing with me that something’s hard by explaining how I can do it better is absolutely no way to offend me! I was the *youngest* kid and didn’t get to start the fires, so lack of practice is probably why I think it’s hard. I’ll have plenty of time out at The Place to work on it. Thanks!

    • I like so much of what you write, that I would never try to offend you. Starting fires challenges most people, until they fail a few times. The Boy Scout method is a good way to learn. If you and Salty don’t have a Boy Scout manual, you might want to get one for The Place.

      • Not only do we have one, but it got caught under the back of spice’s chair last week because I left it sitting on the floor next to my chair (they sit together in the living room). She picked it up and sort of waived it in my face in a silent but firm “that’s not where this belongs” look. I get that look a lot. I deserve that look a lot.

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