How to Start a Fire in a Disaster or Survival Situation: Fire Making Ideas

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Have you ever been out camping and realized that you forgot the matches? If you didn’t have any matches, would you know how to start a fire? What if the situation was one of survival and you needed to start a fire to keep warm, cook food, and ? Would you know what to do?

Fire making is a skill that everyone should be competent in. Knowing how to create a fire could someday save your life and/or the lives of your loved ones. After reading this article, you should have the knowledge to be able to create one whenever or wherever it is needed.

Things to Consider When Starting a Fire

All fires need three ingredients to be self sustaining. They need: 1) Fuel, 2) Oxygen, & 3) Heat. If you are missing any of these three ingredients, you won't be able to make a fire. When outdoors, be mindful of such things as relative humidity, precipitation, wind speed, and temperature. All of these things can affect your ability to create a fire.

Another key thing to remember is to start out small. By this I mean, start by heating a small amount of very fine kindling. After you see some glowing embers, slowly add more and larger pieces of fuel while fanning or gently blowing on it to add oxygen to it. Remember, you can't start a log on fire without first building up enough heat to ignite it.

And lastly, a word about safety. Safety should be your number one priority, especially in a survival or disaster situation. Be aware of your surroundings and be sure you know what you are doing prior to doing it. Before you start a fire, you should also make sure that you have the tools to put it out properly. You don't want to start a forest fire or harm yourself or your friends now would you?

Light Magnification Methods

The sun can easily be used to start a fire by magnifying and focusing the solar radiation that is hitting an object. Almost any kind of transparent lens can be used to refract light and focus it on a single point. There are several ways that light can be magnified.

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Magnifying Glass - A magnifying glasses lens bends the sun's light and focuses it on a single point. This intense amount of light energy can heat up some kindling enough to ignite it. Just about every type of magnifying glass can be used to start a fire given enough patience and the right conditions. In fact, some sporting good store sell special lens that have the sole purpose of starting fires.

Binoculars - When you place binoculars in such a way that it directs the sun's light to focus on a single point, a fire can be created. Simply hold the binoculars with the eyepiece pointed toward the object you are trying to ignite. Keep a steady hand and be patient to allow the material to heat up and ignite.

Ice Lens - In a cold climate you may be able to find a small block of ice that can be turned into a magnifying lens. If you can find one, begin shaping it by rubbing it on a hard surface such as a stone or boulder. Keep doing this until you develop a perfect convex shape. Be careful not to move too fast or all of your hard work may end up melting away. When you are done, use it to start a fire just like you would a regular magnifying glass.

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Bag of Water - Fill a typical sandwich bag with some water and squeeze it into the shape of a lens. Hold the bag tightly over your tinder and don't allow any water to drip onto it. Allow the light to be refracted though the bag and to focus on a single point. Pretty much any kind of transparent and flexible plastic can actually be used here.

Broken Light Bulb - The top of a broken light bulb can be turned into a fire starting implement very easily. Simply add some clean water to the glass and allow the sunlight to be refracted through it.

Wine Glass - This has basically the same concept as the broken light bulb. A small amount of clean water added to a wine glass can create a lens with the ability to start a fire. This won't work all of the time. You will need to find a drinking vessel that has that perfect spherical shape.

Camera Lens - An old camera lens may be small, but it can be quite powerful if used in the correct manner. A camera lens has a perfect convex shape and is thus perfect for focusing light. This works the same as a magnifying glass, but will be more difficult because of its small size.

Light Intensification Methods

A mirror with a parabolic shape can focus light into a single point by reflecting it. The reflected light is intensified by the mirror and can easily create a flame. Almost anything that has a parabolic shape can be used to start a fire.

Starting a fire with a soda can and a chocolate bar

Aluminum Can - The bottom of an aluminum can has a near perfect parabolic shape. This means that it is great for focusing the sun's rays into a single point. You will need to find something to polish the bottom of the can to make it really reflective for this to work. A very fine clay-mud and a cloth can be used for this. You can use toothpaste or a candy bar like they did on the hit Discovery Channel Show Mythbusters to polish the aluminum. Unfortunately for the environment, you can probably find some empty beverage cans anywhere you go.

Metal Pot Lid - Some steel and aluminum cooking pots have lids with a parabolic shape. Use the inside of the pot's lid to focus the sun's light onto a single point. It may not be too difficult to find the perfect lid, you just may one tucked away in your cupboard right now.

Flashlight - Inside of almost every camping or survival flashlight is a parabolic mirror. After cracking open the flashlight, you can use the mirror to direct a focused beam of light toward your tinder.

Salad Bowl and Foil - After finding a nice parabolic shaped salad bowl, carefully press aluminum foiled into the bowl to make a reflective surface. You may need to add a sticky substance to the bowl such as tree sap, glue, or caramel candy to allow the foil to stay in place. You will also need to lightly buff the foil so that it becomes very shiny. Use the completed device to focus light on a single point and start a fire.

Spark Methods

If you can find a way to create a spark, you can effortlessly create a fire. Sparks can be easily created from a variety of tools and materials.

Flint and Knife - This is probably on of the easiest ways to create a spark. Simply force the knife blade over the flint stone surface. Flint can be purchased at your local camping store or big box retailer.

Steel and Stone - If you strike a stone on a very hard piece of steel, a spark can be created. When striking them together, be sure that the objects are hitting each other at an oblique angle. Your striking motion should be such that you are "aiming" the sparks toward your kindling. You can also use a second hard stone in place of a piece of steel if needed.

9-Volt Battery and Steel Wool - A fresh 9 volt battery will very easily make a spark when touched to a steel wool pad. This is actually one of the easiest ways to create a spark as it is basically instantaneous.

Pencil and Car Battery - Use a knife to remove the eraser end of the pencil and expose the graphite. Carefully touch the ends of the pencil to the battery terminal by dropping it onto the battery. Use extreme caution with the method has the pencil itself should ignite rather quickly. Use the burning pencil to ignite your tinder.

Friction Methods

If you can find a way to generate a lot of heat through friction, you may be able to start a fire. Here are some methods to start a fire using friction (assuming no electricity).

Starting a Fire with the Bow Drill Method
Starting a Fire with the Bow Drill Method | Source

Bow Drill - An old shoestring tied around a curved piece of wood can be used to start a fire. Use the string and curved stick to form a bow. Then twist a straight, cylindrical stick into the bow. Use the bow to spin the stick and create friction. Creating a fire with this method takes an incredible amount of work. The image at right should help you understand how this works.

Fire Rope - Use a long (2-3ft) piece of rope to start a fire. The rope will need to be made out of cotton, leather, or some other organic material. Nylon ropes will melt before a fire is created. First, find an old and dry log. Carefully partially split the log and wedge it open with a rock. Stuff some kindling into the crack at the bottom of the split. Next, insert the rope through the split in the log and grab each end with your hands. With rapid and short strokes, "saw" the rope back and forth until you see smoke. This is extremely difficult and should only be used as a last resort.

Fire Saw - This is the old "rub two sticks together method." Again, this takes an incredible amount of work to complete. To increase your chances of success, use a very dry and soft piece of wood. Rub one stick on the other in very a short and rapid back and forth motion. Place tinder at the end of the rubbing region. Continue this effort without stopping until an ember is formed.

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Comments 16 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

A very useful Hub. I keep a 12" x 12" fresnel lens in my motor home for this very purpose. With direct sunlight, it will create a nice flame on a stick of dry wood in seconds.


Jason Oleinik profile image

Jason Oleinik 5 years ago from Richmond, BC, Canada

Great Hub! Didn't even know about most of these.


Bud Gallant profile image

Bud Gallant 5 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Very interesting. I think it's a great idea to know how to great a fire in an emergency situation. These are all useful tips, and it's given me some good ideas for the future if I end up in a situation like this.


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona Author

Thanks guys. I appreciate the comments. I'm glad to see that this can benefit someone (even if some of the methods are a little out there).


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Great tips, CWanamaker. I had entirely forgotten about fire starting via light magnification, but it makes perfect sense! I should pack a magnifying glass into my survival backpack.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

Wow - great subject and I like your layout! Congrats on making it into the contest and good luck to you~


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

This is very useful information that hopefully we will never need to use for survival...but great to know. Thanks!


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona Author

Peggy W - Thanks, lets hope that no one has to use it!


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

This is a real winner CW. I was stuck on having to rub those two sticks together (and it never worked). You many have saved my life :)


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona Author

Green Lotus - Thanks for the feedback. None of these methods are easy by any means. They all require patience and a little bit of luck. Having some additional knowledge can increase your chances of survival.


melodyandes profile image

melodyandes 5 years ago

Love this fabulous and useful hub!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I also carry a flint and steel, and paraffin coated jute twine in a waterproof bottle, although it resists water well.

Such tinder will ignite instantly with just a spark, once it’s frayed and formed into a bird’s nest, and will burn for several minutes.

There are several sources of excellent tinder in the wild, and flint can be found most places. Just strike it on steel with your tinder where it can catch the spark, and voilà! Fire!


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona Author

Melodyandes - Thank you!

WillStar - That's a good point you've brought up. Bringing some tinder with you could really help you out in a survival. Sometimes finding good tinder is hard to do if it is raining outside. I used to carry a magnifying glass and some matches in a waterproof container when I went camping or hiking.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

This was very valuable information. You come up with useful tips related with fire disaster and how survival. You ave done a good job here. Thank you very much for let me know about this. Vote up!

Prasetio


safetykart profile image

safetykart 3 years ago from India

Most of these have been shown on different Nat Geo Survival programs but they are really useful and useful to implement. Many of these come in handy packages.


David Endocrine 7 months ago

Really useful page! Along with this and this post here http://survivalseverything.com/index.php/2016/05/0... I have learnt a great deal.

Time to test them out in the field!

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