Give’r Founder and stoke master Bubba Albrecht is pretty darn good at building fires. With snow finally in the forecast here in Jackson Hole, everyone’s getting heat systems ready for launch including those with wood burning stoves. Camping out is a little more rough and rugged now with temperatures dipping into the low 20s, but a proper fire can keep us outside given’r despite the shiver inducing temps. Here are a few fire building nuggets from Bubba:
- Location, location, location: Always check the fire hazards and rules about having a fire in an area before you start one. The “leave no trace” program applies here, and you should exhaustively search for an established fire ring (or use a fire pan) before lighting up just anywhere. Also take note of nearby dead trees, overhanging fire hazards and exposure to root fire danger…caution is the name of the game. (If in a high fire risk area, you can use a fire blanket at base of pit for increased safety).
2. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Gather and prep your fuel – It is definitely best to collect deadfall off the ground, with primary goal of finding the driest wood possible. If it happens to be wet or rainy, focus your search below clusters of trees with lots of overhead coverage or underneath beefy pine trees/groves. (Bonus tip, these same places are often prime spots to sleep/pitch a tent if find yourself in rough weather…just be sure to take into account any large dead trees that could buckle with heavy wind/extreme weather…stay clear of them widowmakers!)
3. (In this case) YES, Sweat the Small Stuff: AKA Kindling/Tinder. Most people overlook the need for the starters of yer fire, especially ensuring that you have more on the ready than you think you’ll need to get ‘er going. Depending on where you’re given’r, Mama nature provides unique solutions to this need: Dead pine branches with dried needles, last years sagebrush “tops” that have been dried by wind and elements, wood shavings/scraps/sawdust and/or smallest of twigs/dead roots, dry cattail leaves, pine cones, birch bark or any dry grass/straw. Some alternates to keep in mind are “fire starter” sticks, the lint that’s collected in yer pockets (like the schtuff that gathers in your laundry drier), the husk from a hornets’/wasp nest/hive, trusty ol’ newspaper or even Purell.
4. Get the Right Mix: Take the time to gather a mixture of sizes of sticks, twigs, branches and logs. This is often where things go awry when fire building that you don’t have enough of the mid-size sticks which are needed in order to light the bigger logs/hefty pieces of wood. Too often you’ll burn up all the small stuff you gathered only to find it wasn’t enough heat/fuel to light the big logs and you’ve gotta start from scratch. If you have ample pinky to wrist size sticks at your side, you’ll be golden.
5. Build First, Then Burn: I am prone to the “teepee method," though many are schooled in building a "log cabin" instead. Whichever you choose, take into account any wind and orient your creation to ensure initial flame/spark doesn’t get blown out. Arrange from inside out or bottom to top with sticks increasing in size (i.e. smallest sticks first to catch fire to then fuel lighting of bigger pieces above/on the outside of structure. Be cautious not to stack too tightly/densely as you need to ensure proper air flow and oxygen in order for the flames to build and burn. Any wood that is bigger than your wrist should be left off the cabin/teepee until you’re well underway and there’s plenty of heat and flames.
6. Kick the Tire and LIGHT THE FIRE: Use matches, lighter or fire starter to ignite the tinder/kindling at the base of your setup. Again, taking wind exposure and orientation into account ahead of time can make this easier or harder on yourself. Choose wisely.
7. Feed the Beast: Once flames are present, add extra kindling to the setup as needed and feed the flames with OXYGEN! If needing to ramp things up, blowing on the flames (gentle at start with lighter tinder/kindling) is essential for increasing temps and truly fueling the chemical reaction of incineration. You can pinch thumbs and forefingers together as a modified “mouth piece” to direct your breath/blowing to be laser precise and most impactful.
8. Slowly But Surely: As flames are steady and the overall heat profile grows, add increasingly larger pieces of wood. In early stages it's key to add the driest pieces you’ve got, saving any wet or damp pieces for later on when fire is more stable and hot. These “wet” pieces will burn, but they require more heat to evaporate any internal moisture before can proper burn. When in doubt, feed with more oxygen.
9. Keep it Going: If you notice any slowing or struggle bussing with your fire, be sure it is getting proper oxygen by shifting around the wood and creating space for air as well as continuing to blow on the burning wood to accelerate the process. Once you’ve got a solid bed of coals going, you’re in maintain mode and can add fuels as needed/desired. This is when you can add larger logs/pieces, just be sure you prop them in a way that allows for air to get underneath ‘em if want to have the cozy flames dancing around (vs. smoldering fire without flames). Add more or less to your preference and enjoy the goods! Avoid placing giant logs over the fire where you’ll end up with a half burned tree. It's best to cut/saw into pieces that can fully burn instead. Also be sure to keep whatever is intended to burn within the fire ring space. Don't leave booby traps jutting out for people to trip on…bad news bears.
10. Slow Before Stop: When nearing the end of your fire enjoyment, reduce what you’re putting into the fire and spread things around best you’re able to ensure all is fully burned. AKA don’t add a huge log right before you’re about to shut down for the night. Harness your inner Smokey-The-Bear – PUT IT OUT! When you’re ready to shut down, this is no time to half-ass things. Have water ready ahead of time (if you can) and be vigilant about putting out your fire. Many ask, “how do you know what is enough water?” I have always been taught that you keep adding water in AND around the fire pit until all stones are able to be touched by hand and until the pit is soupy and properly stirred up (with a stick). If you can feel any heat on your hand when hovering over any portion of the pit/stones, you gotta add more H2O! There isn’t any other way about it…be aware and be vigilant…and if you can’t put it out properly, then probably don't have a fire at’ll!