Off-Topic invites artists, curators, writers, and cultural workers to discuss a subject not directly related to the practice of making art. We would like to welcome Stephanie Burke as our latest guest with her post, “Firestarter”. Stephanie is a Chicago based photographer who graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. She currently writes for Bad at Sports, runs Art Talk Chicago and works as the Managing Editor for Chicago Art Magazine.
by: Stephanie Burke
Last night I had a dream: my husband and I were living in an abandoned church in some metropolis. The church was high on a hill overlooking the city. I was sitting in the scrubby grass outside the church, watching the sun go down and listening to talk radio. An announcer cut into my program, saying the mayor had decided to start shutting the power off at night to save money. I looked out over the city to the west, and watched the lights blackout below me as the sun dipped below the horizon. As the last rays of sunlight disappeared, I started thinking about how I was going to build a fire without drawing attention to myself. In mid-thought, I woke up. I rolled over and related my dream to Jeriah, including my quandary as to how to build an un-noticeable fire. Without skipping a beat, he said flatly, “a Dakota Fire Hole, that’s what you’d use.” Yes, that’s what I would use. Knowing how to build things like a Dakota Fire Hole, and a fire in general, is an important part of wilderness and disaster preparedness, a topic of great import to me. Thus, I have decided to dedicate my Bad at Sports Off Topic entry to fire building in context of survivalism.
Fire is one of the most important things you will need in a survival situation. Fires provide heat to dry clothes, warm bodies, cook food, and boil water to destroy pathogens. It also provides light to work by, to use as a signal for rescue, and to aid in general peace of mind. For all these reasons, you need to plan ahead and understand the basics of starting and maintaining fires.
First, you need to understand the needs of a fire. A fire needs three things: fuel, air, and an ignition source (or spark). Fuel is what is feeding the fire, usually in the form of wood, paper, leaves, twigs, etc., and generally, the drier the fuel the better. Overly wet fuel can be used once a fire is going, assuming it has been dried out near the fire before use, or the fire is raging extremely hot. Be careful when gathering your fuel, many parks and wilderness areas have restrictions on wood gathering.
There are three main fuel types you need to gather: tinder, kindling, and denser, long burning material. Starter and kindling are essential to starting a fire (without gasoline or road flares), and it continues to surprise me when a watch people try to start fires without them. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen someone crumple up 2 wads of newspaper, cover them with 4 or 5 four-inch diameter logs, then light it expecting a the newspaper to get the logs going, I’d have, like, a few hundred dollars.