How to start a fire

Somehow, you've found yourself deep in the woods, and a storm is coming. It's dusk, the rain has started, and you know it's going to get a lot darker and a lot colder. So you and your companions decide to make a fire. You've seen other people do it. How hard could it be? You pile some sticks and logs together, throw a match on them, and watch a tiny flame catch, smolder, and disappear. Watching the tiny wisps of smoke fade away after a few more false starts, you come to understand the popularity of lighter fluid. But you don't have any, and you're out in the cold, so you resolve to figure it out with what you have.

You're surrounded by trees, but you realize not just any wood will work. The sap-filled green branches all around you thrive on the rain. They will not burn, they have no reason to. But the soggy, trampled deadfall at your feet won't do either. It has no fire left to give. So you seek out standing dead trees and begin snapping off the dry twigs and bark. For the most part, you collect the smallest you can find, although you don't shy away from larger branches if they look well-seasoned and ready to burn. You collect as much as you think you need, and then a few times more than that. And then you collect more still. Your friends look on skeptically. How will such small twigs be of any use? How much time are you wasting when it will take large logs to keep you warm?

You place a patch of bark on the wet ground, and begin arranging your fuel. First the smallest twigs and scraps of bark. You even take your pocket knife to a twig and meticulously shave paper-thin strips into a curly mass and place it in the pile. Then, a few bigger pieces. Still twigs, but bigger. The twigs are woven together closely, with just enough space to breathe comfortably. You add some bark and larger twigs around the outside to keep the wind out and to keep the heat in. By this time, your friends are upset that you've left them standing in the rain while you play with twigs.

Finally, you ask for a match and slide it under one side of the pile. Then a few more on different sides. Some small shavings catch, burn away, and smolder while the flames move along the matches towards the center. For a minute, it looks as if nothing is happening... then wisps of smoke start to rise. A tiny flame appears on one small twig shaving. It spreads, flickers, then dies, leaving a thin stream of smoke. Part of you wants to start over. Part of you wants to pile more fuel on. But instead, you continue methodically, shielding the small pile from the wind, blowing gently. A few tiny embers glow with each breath. And then, after a few long minutes, a flame erupts in the middle of the twigs, quickly consuming all those small pieces you took so long to collect. But in the process, a couple larger twigs catch solidly on fire. You add more shavings and a few larger sticks. In a moment, flames surround the whole pile and you continue adding larger sticks and logs. Soon, you have a roaring fire, unfazed by the thickening rain.

The fire keeps you and your friends warm while you wait for the storm to pass. You keep feeding it sticks and logs. You place some damp deadfall around the outside and watch the water sizzle and boil out of it, before it too begins to burn. You place a ring of stones around the fire to keep it from spreading too far, because you realize that as bad as the storm is, the fire could be even worse without the proper care. Your friends' doubts have faded, and you are grateful to be with them, warm and dry.