So you want to build a fire...
I suppose it would be possible to live as we do and never build a campfire - but, my, what a travesty! Forsaking something so basic and essential to humanity’s existence? Nope, not okay in our book. So, we have fires.
To have campfires, we must have firewood. Here there are two options I know of: buy pre-cut wood; or gather, cut, split, and stack it ourselves. Guess which one is the most economical, and rewarding.
As you'll soon see, the van and Casita lack a woodshed. We don’t have the means to store drying wood. We better find it already dry and well-seasoned, then, hadn’t we? Another thing we don’t carry with us is a log splitter. (They’re so heavy and awkwardly shaped- maybe they’ll come out with an inflatable one sometime? wink) Given that weight and storage space must be taken into consideration with every item we carry, we need the basics and no more when it comes to our wood-getting tools. A smallish Husqvarna chainsaw (but it works hard!), a kindling hatchet, and a 3 lb splitting maul all help us get the job done.
Gathering firewood is soaked in memories for me. I grew up loving the toasty-warm fires in our wood stove every winter. When my brother and I were kids, getting firewood with Dad was a Thang. I don’t remember how much complaining we did about having to help, but I remember being bundled up outside in various woodsy settings, loading the pickup bed and/or the trailer with chunks Dad had cut. The sounds and smells of a chainsaw running, stacking freshly cut wood, cold on my cheeks and a sniffly nose - then the lovely, lovely warmth of a fire in the Ashley stove in the basement. Mm, mmm! Nothing like it.
I still like getting firewood. Instead of our two wheel drive Honda 4trax skidding logs to the road, it’s our winch winding them out of the woods. It takes less wood to make a load in the van than it does a pickup bed (but I find my stamina has decreased to match!).
And instead of the gas-powered log splitter, there’s the thwack and thump of a muscle-powered maul. The aesthetics are the same, though, and the pay off. The costs for us are in the physical exertion, time spent, and whatever maintenance items the saw and splitter need.
TruSouth Trufuel from Home Depot (50:1 premixed fuel) powers the saw, and an electric "rock" hooked into the solar batteries makes sharpening the blade a quick job. Fresh Duct Tape padding the splitter handle in strategic spots is always helpful.
Yep, that's my hubby. Yep, he split that 4-footer with one whack. And yep, he's pleased with himself. Personal best! (This is the kind of thing that happens when you tell him he can't do something.)
You've got the fuel. Now what?
Lots of campgrounds have iron rings, of varying heights. The deeper they are, the bigger fire you can build in them, and I find it very satisfying to dig out the more shallow ones. Other places have rock rings, and still others have nothing at all.
There are some basic but absolutely pertinent considerations to having campfires, I’m learning. Mostly they are common sense, but I’m also learning sense isn’t always as common as you’d hope. First, you have to know what you can and can't cut. On most state and national recreation land, the rule for getting firewood is that it must be both dead and down. (Sometimes you're allowed to cut standing dead trees down.) Don’t leave camp with a fire burning. Dry leaves on a fire make for easy-blown live embers, especially if there’s a breeze. Check the surrounding conditions: dry or damp ground? is there leaf cover? do you need to sweep around the fire ring to clear potential flammable materials? Check the campground bulletin board, or the state websites for fire bans. We were in Georgia this fall during their 40 days-plus drought. (This was the same time frame the South Carolina, northern Georgia, and Tennessee wildfires were burning.) There were campfire bans everywhere we looked, and for good reason.
Perhaps you’ve read the Louis L'Amour westerns, as I have. All of his heroes could start bonfires out of a single dry twig and some pocket lint, just by hitting sparks off their spurs (slight exaggeration). (Okay, more than slight.) We aren’t trying to out-pioneer the pioneers, and we sure aren’t into making life as hard as possible just for the heck of it. In the end, we want a fire, not a trophy for Most Primitive Fire Starter, right? Right. To that end, we carry a couple Rubbermaid totes full of dry kindling (this also serves as ballast when we’re towing the camper).
Also, grill lighter fluid.
I said we aren’t trying to win any prizes.
(Truthfully, as long as we have enough tinder under good, dry fire logs, we don’t need to use the liquid starter all that often.)
My kingdom for a fat stump!
What we really love to find, even more than an old dry pile of limbs, is fat lighter.
Oooh, fat lighter. Mr. 78sqft’s eyes light up just at the thought of it. If we’re walking and he goes off trail, it’s usually because he’s spotted a fat lighter stump. Also called fatwood, fat lighter is the remains of a pine tree which has been dead for some time. It can be a stump, or the trunk lying on the ground. Either way, it’s been there long enough that all the sap has turned to a solid resin which is awesomely flammable. Case in point, this piece of fat lighter (the horizontal piece in the middle) is getting everything else started :
Here's a good visual on the concentration of resin in a knot versus through the trunk's grain:
Oh, we love a good fire. And we think a good stack of cut and split firewood is almost as pretty. So while we're enjoying our particular brand of cozy (letting that stack get a little smaller in the process), we'll let you get back to yours.
Stay warm, stay free. Till next time!