Fire is one of our best friends in a wilderness emergency, and we need to plan accordingly for it. When it’s time to set up a fireplace, you’ll need to figure out exactly where and how to build it. Some conditions require a mound underneath your fire, while other circumstances demand a fire pit. And in a few situations, the fire has to be on a platform in order to burn at all. Here are some of the conditions in which to use each.
These are the most common places to build and maintain a fire. Most fire pits are circular, dish-shaped depressions or holes. They can be almost any size or depth, depending on the size of the fire you need. These depressions cradle the fire, grouping the coals in the center to help them burn longer and hotter. You don’t want to make the hole so deep that it keeps in all the heat, unless you’ve had to build a fire under very windy conditions. For this case, you’ll want to create a Dakota fire hole. This is a Native American fireplace style which burns wood efficiently like a wood stove; and it provides a greater margin of fire safety by keeping coals and flames fairly contained in windy conditions. This setup involves two holes in the ground with a tunnel connecting them at the bottom. The “upwind” hole stays empty and acts as a funnel to catch the wind. The fire burns in the “downwind” hole, relatively safely.
In wetter climates, or in areas prone to sudden downpours of rain, the fire mound makes a lot of sense. Fire pits can easily fill with water and drown your coal bed. When this happens, your fire is doomed. The ancient forebears to the Seminole natives started using simple mounds of sand to keep their fires going in the wet and swampy terrain of the American southeast. This technique is still in use there today. Fire mounds can be made from almost any non-flammable material: Sand, soil, mud and stone can all be used to give you a mound for a high and dry fireplace. Build the mound as tall as you need, from a few inches to a foot tall.
Burning a fire on top of the snow is often one of those things that you never really think about until you have to do it. In areas with little snow, you can always dig down to the soil surface to build your fire. But if the snow is very deep, or you lack digging tools, fire on top of the snow is the best option. Less experienced outdoor enthusiasts often get a rude shock the first time they try burning a fire directly on the snow. The fire starts out normally enough. Then the snow melts, which puts out your coals and leaves you with no fire and a jumble of wet, black sticks. To solve this problem, you’re going to need a platform. This can be a manmade material such as a piece of metal for a platform. You’ll just need some logs or rocks under it, so the metal doesn’t melt the snow underneath. If you don’t have metal, the platform can be made of dead wood, rotten wood or green wood. This last choice is the best, because the live wood has enough moisture in it to keep it from burning for a few hours, but not so much moisture that it puts out your burning sticks or bed of coals. You can use whole chunks of wood or split the wood in half to create a very flat platform. Obviously, the whole pieces will last longer than split wood. Replace the raft as needed.