Saturday, October 27, 2007

More Fire Starting in the Dark and Wet

Last month, I wrote about trying to start fires when it's dark and wet. I did a bit more experimentation along those lines last night, although with less success. Actually, no success. The last time I tried it, my wood was wet but it wasn't raining much. Last night, the rain was coming down harder.

My choice of tinder last night was some fatwood. I bought a box of this the other night at Lowe's, where it's stocked near the barbecue and fireplace stuff. I've read about fatwood in several postings on the BladeForums Wilderness & Survival Skills forum, and wanted to try it out.

Fatwood is pine with a higher than normal resin or pitch content. Pine pitch is very flammable. The reason fatwood has a higher pitch content is that it's from a tree that died violently, whether from a lightning strike or being cut down. Until the roots die, they'll continue to pump pitch up into the stump, saturating it with the flammable resin.

Fatwood is water resistant, cheap, and burns extremely well. When shaved into a fuzz with a knife, it ignites easily with sparks from a ferrocerium rod. At least long as it isn't soaking wet.

Before trying to get a fire going in the rain, I made a small pile of fatwood fuzz immediately outside my front door, where it was sheltered from the rain. After a few strokes on the ferro rod it ignited and burned for about 30 seconds. If I had dry secondary tinder and fuel to work with, I would easily have been able to start a fire.

A little while later I went out back with a couple pieces of fatwood, my golok, and my Victorinox Farmer to which is attached a Countycomm Peanut lighter and a Photon Microlight II. I also put in my pockets a ferro rod, a box of REI Stormproof matches, and a tealight.

I started by splitting slivers of wood from a piece of dry firewood taken out of my shed. I gathered these on a garbage bag to keep them off the wet ground and tried to shield them from the rain with my body. Next I made up a pile of fatwood fuzz.

As quickly as possible I made a fire lay with the fuzz sitting on top of a dry piece of bark, surrounded by the dry wood slivers.

Unfortunately, the whole fire lay quickly got wet. Also, the ferro rod would no longer throw sparks once wet. I tired the Peanut lighter but as soon as a raindrop hit the top it went out and was too wet to start until I later took it in and dried it out. The one reliable spark source I had were the REI matches. But by this time all my once dry tinder and kindling was sopping wet. Not to mention I was soaked.

Another problem I had was that as I tried to get sparks from the ferro rod after it got wet, a couple times I disturbed my fire lay, getting it wetter.

Since the fatwood worked when it wasn't too wet I do plan to add a couple pieces to my possibles bag to complement the 35mm film canister of Vaseline cotton balls and hexamine Esbit fuel.

So far, the one method I've tried which will get a fire started when it's raining is a magnesium road flare. When I was in a Civil Air Patrol ground search and rescue squadron from 1985 - 90, I carried one in my butt pack. Flares burn very hot and for 15 or 30 minutes, so they are able to dry out and ignite wet wood. Today, I carry a few in the back of my truck, for both their intended use and in case I get stuck somewhere and need to start a fire. Note that flares have a shelf life so they should be replaced every few years.

Upcoming tests will use hexamine, trioxane, and fire starters made from dyer lint and/or wood shavings in cardboard egg cartons, soaked in wax.

For now, I'm thinking that unless one has a flare when all potential fuel is wet and it's raining, concentrating one's efforts on constructing some shelter first to get out of the rain makes more sense than trying to get a fire going. After that, then think about starting a fire, because you'll be able to setup you fire lay where it won't get rained on and swamped before you really get it going.


Anonymous said...

food for thought-try one or more of those ready to lite charcoal briquettes(or any fire starter for that matter)kept in zip-loc bag with tender. just ignite and let it start to burn inside the bag..cracked open a bit. that might get you ahead start on the wind and rain.

Dave Markowitz said...

That's a good idea, I'll have to try it.