Starting a fire is one of the most basic survival skills. Survival instructors spend a lot of time teaching fire starting techniques, ensuring that their students have alternatives to use in any situation. But one thing they don’t seem to teach, is how to start a fire in wet weather.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found that survival situations and bad weather seem to go together. Every time I’ve found myself in a situation where I’ve needed to use my survival skills, bad weather has been part of what I was dealing with. Maybe that’s just because I don’t feel so much like I’m forced to survive, if I’m sleeping under the trees in good weather. But then, many of the disasters we deal with are weather-related events.
The big challenge in starting a fire in wet weather is that we’re dealing with wet fuel. Added to that, the wind and rain contrive to blow out whatever fire staring technique we’re trying to use, before it can do any good. But we have to overcome that, if we’re going to survive.
To start with, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for the need to start a fire in the midst of a storm. The fire starting techniques we carry, should be purchased with that in mind. That means making sure we have something that won’t be blown out by the wind, such as stormproof matches and lighters, and that we have something to use as an accelerant to overcome the moisture in the fuel we find.
It’s also important to carry some sort of tinder along. Back in the pioneering days, people carried a small box, called a “tinder box” with them when traveling. It would contain a flint and steel, sometimes some matches, and whatever tinder they found along the way. People would typically gather tinder when they found a good source, so that they would have some when they couldn’t find it.
Choose a Good Location
Choosing a location that provides some protection for the fire is critical. While it may not be possible to totally protect your fire from the weather, select a location which is going to keep the rain from falling down directly on it, such as under the shadow of a tree. While the branches might not stop all the rain, they will stop some of it. The more the branches can stop, the better.
Your location needs to protect the fire from wind as well. If it doesn’t, then you need to take the time to create a wind break, whether that is made of branches, rocks, your stack of firewood or a rescue blanket strung between two trees.
Finally, watch out for water running across the ground. If possible, put the fire on a slight incline and trench around it to keep water from flowing into it. Either that, or make a bed of rocks and put the fire on top of it.
The hardest part is finding dry fuel for the fire. While it is hard, I’ve never had a time when I couldn’t find fuel at all. I’ve just had to look. For the most part, the dry wood is going to be found in places which are sheltered from the rain, such as:
- The underside of a deadfall tree
- A cave or rock outcropping
- An undercut embankment
- Underneath a pile of debris on the forest floor or a pile of wood someone else collected
- The bottom branches of a pine tree are often dead, but covered up by living branches
- In a thicket
I almost always use some sort of accelerant, like cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly to start a fire in wet weather. While it is possible to start one, if you have dry tinder, using an accelerant is faster. So, I avoid using those at other times, saving them for when I really need them.