Starting a Fire in Wet Weather
Starting a fire is one of the most basic survival skills. Survival instructors spend a lot of time teaching fire starting techniques, ensuring that their students have alternatives to use in any situation. But one thing they don’t seem to teach, is how to start a fire in wet weather.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found that survival situations and bad weather seem to go together. Every time I’ve found myself in a situation where I’ve needed to use my survival skills, bad weather has been part of what I was dealing with. Maybe that’s just because I don’t feel so much like I’m forced to survive, if I’m sleeping under the trees in good weather. But then, many of the disasters we deal with are weather-related events.
The big challenge in starting a fire in wet weather is that we’re dealing with wet fuel. Added to that, the wind and rain contrive to blow out whatever fire staring technique we’re trying to use, before it can do any good. But we have to overcome that, if we’re going to survive.
To start with, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for the need to start a fire in the midst of a storm. The fire starting techniques we carry, should be purchased with that in mind. That means making sure we have something that won’t be blown out by the wind, such as stormproof matches and lighters, and that we have something to use as an accelerant to overcome the moisture in the fuel we find.
It’s also important to carry some sort of tinder along. Back in the pioneering days, people carried a small box, called a “tinder box” with them when traveling. It would contain a flint and steel, sometimes some matches, and whatever tinder they found along the way. People would typically gather tinder when they found a good source, so that they would have some when they couldn’t find it.
Choose a Good Location
Choosing a location that provides some protection for the fire is critical. While it may not be possible to totally protect your fire from the weather, select a location which is going to keep the rain from falling down directly on it, such as under the shadow of a tree. While the branches might not stop all the rain, they will stop some of it. The more the branches can stop, the better.
Your location needs to protect the fire from wind as well. If it doesn’t, then you need to take the time to create a wind break, whether that is made of branches, rocks, your stack of firewood or a rescue blanket strung between two trees.
Finally, watch out for water running across the ground. If possible, put the fire on a slight incline and trench around it to keep water from flowing into it. Either that, or make a bed of rocks and put the fire on top of it.
The hardest part is finding dry fuel for the fire. While it is hard, I’ve never had a time when I couldn’t find fuel at all. I’ve just had to look. For the most part, the dry wood is going to be found in places which are sheltered from the rain, such as:
- The underside of a deadfall tree
- A cave or rock outcropping
- An undercut embankment
- Underneath a pile of debris on the forest floor or a pile of wood someone else collected
- The bottom branches of a pine tree are often dead, but covered up by living branches
- In a thicket
I almost always use some sort of accelerant, like cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly to start a fire in wet weather. While it is possible to start one, if you have dry tinder, using an accelerant is faster. So, I avoid using those at other times, saving them for when I really need them.
Long Term Water Storage Primer
Finding and purifying enough clean drinking water is one of the biggest survival problems for just about any survival situation. Health experts say that we should ideally drink 8 – 8 oz. glasses of water per day. That works out to a half gallon. Survival instructors say that we need to have a gallon of water per person, per day, for drinking and cooking. So the two are pretty much in alignment. Nevertheless, coming up with and purifying that much water for a family, when the city water is shut off, is a huge challenge and will end up occupying a large amount of time.
There are two things to keep in mind with those figures. One is that it is assuming a normal day, not one of strenuous hard work in the heat. It’s possible to sweat out more than a gallon of water a day, in which case the individual would become dehydrated, if they weren’t drinking enough to make up for it.
The other thing is all the other things we use water for. While we might curtail cleaning and bathing in the most severe survival situations, the fact is that personal hygiene and keeping your home clean are important parts of survival. Disease spreads much faster and easier in a dirty environment, than it does in a clean one. So our actual water usage is probably going to be more like five gallons of water, per person, per day. That’s a lot.
One part of the solution is to stockpile water. But that’s hard to do; not because water doesn’t store well; it will, but because of how much is needed. Finding enough storage space for all that water is a huge challenge.
My recommendation is to stockpile as much water as reasonably possible, but save it for emergency use. When in a survival situation, start harvesting water from nature the first day, not when your water supply runs low. By starting out early, you can keep that stockpiled water for times when you have trouble harvesting enough water from nature and getting it purified.
Storing water in bottles or gallons is inefficient, although gallons can be stored in places, such as under the bed, where other things might not be stored. Besides that, it’s easier to use water in gallon jugs, than to use water stored in 55 gallon drums.
The problem with either gallons or drums is that you need a lot of them to provide your family with water. A relatively short-term loss of water, such as might happen during a hurricane, will see a family go through a few hundred gallons of water, just for drinking and cooking. If they bathe, wash their clothes and try to keep the house clean, it will jump up much higher than that, even with using the most stringent means of conservation possible.
What’s needed is a large tank to store that water in. In my last home, I had a couple of 200 gallon tanks I used. But those are a bit conspicuous. If you want t tank that people aren’t going to notice, you’ll be better off buying an above-ground swimming pool and using it as a stealth water tank. The chemicals used to keep the water safe for swimming, also make it safe to drink.
Speaking of keeping the water safe to drink, any water stored for a prolonged period of time need to have 8 drops of chlorine bleach per gallon added to it. A lot of people forego this precaution; but there’s no guarantee that the water you’re storing is totally free of bacteria and other microscopic pathogens. Adding the bleach ensures that if there are any, they die, rather than multiply.
Do You REALLY Know How To Get Home?
One of the big dangers in preparing for a disaster is not seeing things clearly. It’s so easy to create an idealistic scenario in our minds, and think it through idealistically. But if there’s anything that our personal back-story should teach us, it’s that things don’t often go the way that we expect them to.
Planning a bug out is a prime example of this. Typically, the scenario starts with the entire family at home, engaged in unimportant tasks, like watching the TV. Then, in a moment’s notice, everyone is expected to switch over to survival mode, grab their bug out bags and the dog, and get into the family’s chosen bug out vehicle, armed, in tactical clothing and ready to go.
But unless a disaster shows up in the middle of the night, that sort of beginning to our scenario is not likely to happen. Rather, the emergency will hit while the family is at work, school and/or other activities. We won’t be able to put our bug out plan into effect, because we won’t even be at the starting point. So we need a plan to get us there. Hence, the “get home plan.”
Actually, your family probably needs several get home plans, one for every member of the family. How each member will get home will depend on where they are, how far that is from home, how old they are, whether they have transportation and whether or not another family member might be able to pick them up.
Those plans also need to take into account the possibility that your vehicles aren’t going to be running or even if they are, the roads will be impassible. An essential bridge might be out, in the case of an earthquake. In such cases, it might be ne necessary to make your way home on foot, abandoning your vehicle.
Most of our kids go to school close enough to home that they should be able to walk home, regardless of the situation. Make sure that they have a clear route that they will take, so that they can be picked up by one of the parents along the way.
Those children need to have a few basic survival tools in their backpacks, specifically a rain poncho and a good flashlight. Their phone should be charged, and they should have a backup battery for it; make sure that the phone numbers of all family members and friends who might pick them up are in it.
Someone who drives should be tasked with picking up each child. This may not be the person who normally picks them up. Rather, it should be whoever would have the easiest time getting by there, during the day, to make the pickup. That usually means whoever has to go nearest their school, while driving home themselves.
Things can be a bit more complicated for the adults in the family, because they often work farther from home. In some cases, those parents might work far enough away that it would take them more than a day to walk home, if the cars or roads are down. They might even be on the other side of a river, which would need to be crossed in some way.
Planning a get home route and strategy for those adults can be challenging; but must be done. Without a plan, there’s no way of knowing what they’ll need to have, in order to accomplish it. Some of those are obvious, like good walking shoes and a coat. But others, like a small inflatable raft to cross that river, are going to be situation specific.
In any case, at a minimum, the adults in the family should have a get home bag in their car or office. That will contain essential survival gear for a couple of days, to give them time to get home, if they have to do so on foot. For that matter, each family vehicle should have that sort of survival gear, just in case.