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How to Build a Traditional Teepee Campfire
And There Was Fire!
Firstoff, you're going to want to gather a lot of dry wood, especially if you plan on having a fire that lasts more than a few hours. Secondly, you're going to want branches and twigs and logs of varying diameters from as thick as toothpicks to the size of your leg. Third, you're going to want to gather a bunch of softball-sized (or larger) stones to create a fire ring two-three feet in diameter. The stones provide a safe barrier between your toes and the heat, and also prevent the fire from spreading at ground level (when properly tended to).
The trick to a good teepee fire is the arrangement and layering of the combustibles. The structure of the branches and logs is literally one teepee inside a larger inside a larger and so on. The first and smallest should be about a foot tall and made with sticks about the size of a pencil or a finger. Try to find three sturdy branches with a crook in them that can, when pushed into the ground a bit (if necessary), form a free standing structure that resembles a tripod. With similar size sticks, cover two-thirds of the tripod by leaning sticks against them as though building a tiny pyramid-shaped shelter. Don't get discouraged if your little teepee falls down while you are building it, it's happened to all of us, just keep trying. Once you have that done, take whatever smallest twigs you have and place them in the gaps that inevitably remain between the sticks you just placed.
Now it's time for filling the teepee with your fire-starters. I prefer tiny twigs, paper bags torn into small strips, dry and open pine cones, or birch bark taken only from fallen trees or branches. If you have a paper shredder at home, a big handful of that works perfectly. Make sure whatever you use it's packed in there allowing for air flow to help fuel the blaze. Now you can cover most of the open third of your teepee, just make sure to leave room to get your match or lighter flame directly to your firestarter.
The rest of the process is simply building larger and larger teepees with thicker and thicker branches and logs over and around the initial little pyramidesque structure until you reach the desired size of your blaze. Just remember to leave a gap in each teepee so that you can reach in and light it up. Also, in order to facilitate the combustion of that centermost pyre, be sure to send several deep breaths into the initial embers, to make sure the smaller branches catch. Once those branches are blazing each successive layer with ignite into a blaze of glory, with the branches falling inward as it flares.
However, as a note of caution, not all fires are created equal, and some can fall out of the fire ring if lopsided or if some branches are substantially larger than those opposite them in the teepee. Aim for uniformity and symmetry in each arrangement, and you will minimize the chance of an out of control fire. On that note, always keep a large bucket of water or method of extinguishing close at hand, and always build a fire away from trees, brush, and strong winds; and never leave a fire unattended unless it has been fully extinguished.