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Gather Round The Fire For Some Outdoor Fun

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Fall is all about smells. Just breathe in the crisp air, enjoy the smell of leaves and the best scent of all — smoke in the air. November is the best time to enjoy a campfire with your family!

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Safety first

Before you read any further, safety first. Here are a few rules for having a fire:

1. Only build and start a fire with adult supervision.

2. Only start a fire in a designated fire space, like a fire pit.

3. Before you start, make sure you have tools to put out the fire, like water. A fire extinguisher is good to have as backup.

4. Make sure the area is cleared of all debris.

5. Make sure the conditions are right. Don’t start a fire on a windy day. Don’t start a fire during a drought.

6. Follow all local ordinances and regulations for outdoor burning.

Now that we’ve agreed to the safety guidelines, let’s build a fire!

Gather your supplies

Your supplies will act like building blocks for the fire. Each one is important to support the next level of the fire.

You will need tinder. Tinder is what is used to start a fire. It is easy to combust or flame up. It needs to flame long enough to ignite the kindling. Tinder found in nature can be dry grass, dandelion heads, cattail fluff, pinecones or dry pine needles. You can also use crinkled up newspaper, toilet paper rolls or paper bags. You need at least enough tinder to fit in your cupped hands, or maybe more. Maybe even lots more.

Don’t forget kindling. Kindling is also used to start a fire, but it is larger than tinder. The main job of kindling is to ignite the logs. The easiest kindling to find in nature is small twigs. You can also bring small chopped flat wood. The idea is to find kindling that is no wider than the size of an adult’s thumb. It is a good idea to gather at least an armload. You will use plenty at the start of making your fire, and you might want to add more later if the flames die down.

Make sure to have fuel on hand. By fuel, we mean wood. You want dried-out wood that is at least as thick as your wrist. Green wood, or freshly chopped wood, makes too much smoke because of the moisture still in the wood.

How are you going to light your fire?

Your fire is (probably) not going to start by pointing at it and shouting “Incendio!” You need something to start the spark. This can be matches or lighters. Be careful during this step; tinder can light up fast.

Are you the adventurous type? Maybe try some of these suggestions below to get your fire going. Or do some more research to find other survival-style fire-starting techniques. We just suggest bringing matches as backup. These take real practice and skill!

Flint and steel: Flint and steel is a classic fire-starting combination. Flint is a type of rock. Sometimes called a striker, the steel is a C-shaped piece of metal that fits over your knuckles. Hold the flint in the other hand. Then strike the sharp edge of the rock with the steel. You are shaving a piece of the metal off your striker, creating a spark. Check out this video to get a better idea of how to start a fire with flint and steel.

Bow drill: For most of history, people started fire by rubbing wood together using friction. Friction is rubbing two things together, like wood, to make enough heat that it eventually smolders and sparks. At the Forest Preserve District’s Isle a la Cache Museum, we use bow drills, but there are a lot of different ways to make friction fire work. To see a bow drill in action, watch this video.

The sun: Harness the power of the sun! This means the sun must be out, which might be asking too much on some November days. For those rare sunny days, use a mirror or magnifying glass to concentrate the sun’s heat onto tinder, which will spark fire. Here’s a video to get you started.

Don’t forget to blow

One thing all fires need is oxygen. When you are getting your first sparks on tinder, you might have to get your lungs working and blow to make the spark turn into a flame. You should also make sure there is enough space around your fuel for airflow. After all that hard work, you don’t want to smother your fire.


Now is time to kick back, relax and enjoy your fire. Hang out with your family. Tell jokes and stories or sing songs. Cook a hot dog or roast a marshmallow. Most important, savor your time outside.


Follow Willy's Wilderness on Facebook for more kid-friendly nature stories and activities.


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