October 27, 2012

Wet wood in the wild no match for this fire system

Calvin "the Wonder Dog" along the shore of Lower Lake

As most folks know, the key to any good fire is dry wood. Without it, building a fire is like picking a banjo with no strings. Time spent in the woods has allowed me to utilize a campfire system that builds a toasty fire, even when rains or snows have soaked a forest’s wood.

In one of these instances, Shifty, his bride, my bride and I hiked in to Lower Lake in the Olallie Lake Scenic Area and spent the night. After having some previous luck fishing at the lake, I wanted to try it again. So, we backpacked the easy 0.5 mile into the area from Lower Lake Campground, setting up camp at the lake’s West end at an elevation of 4,600 feet. Unfortunately, it was miserably nasty wet for much of the first day, pouring like a busted fire hydrant all day, but we persevered and made it through the night.

The next day, Shifty and I started a fire out of a wee bit of rotted and punky, dry wood we found inside an old log. From the tiny flames we were able to build a rather large fire with rain soaked wood gathered from around our camp.

The size of wood and the sequence of how that wood was placed on the fire was no different from any other fire, but in this case, with the wood so wet, we had to dry it first.

The trick to building a fire with wet wood is to first make sure it is dry. If it ain’t dry it won’t burn. So with everything soaked, how do you go about finding dry wood? Well, you don’t, except for the little bit needed to start the fire – which usually isn’t hard to do.
A little smoky but warm fire at Lower Lake
It is a lot easier to build a fire with wet wood if you gather most of the wood first, before you start the fire. This is because a great deal of attention must be paid to the fire in order to keep it going and dry wood at the same time. You don’t want your fire to go out when off looking for wood.

You will need all different sizes of wood to build a good fire, so most wood lying on the forest floor will work. Branches, small logs, twigs will all be needed. As the wood is collected, place it in three or more piles – twigs in one, branches in another, logs in another and, maybe, a little larger twigs in yet another and maybe some tree moss in another, etc. Any wood not lying directly on the ground is best. This is because wood in contact with the ground continues to absorb ground moisture even when it isn’t raining.

We placed the handful of dry wood in the center of the fire pit. This was found in the middle of an old rotted log lying near camp. Moss from trees can usually be dried fairy easy and started, too. Next, we stacked very small twigs in a circle around the dry wood. The twigs must be placed near the wood used to start the fire so they will dry. After lighting the dry wood, we generated a few flames, which was enough to dry the tiny twigs placed around the fire. As the twigs dried, they either caught on fire or were carefully placed in the fire.

The key to building a fire in this manner is to make sure wood is constantly being dried. So, as the fire is growing larger, larger wood can be dried. Eventually, this system provided us with a great little fire, a bit smoky from the drying wood, but nice and toasty.
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