Barbara Streisand, Ricky Gervaise, Daniel Radcliffe, Tina Fey and Barbara Walters. What do they all have in common?

Well, they are all successful, recognizable names in their own fields but there is something else that binds them together.


None of them can drive a car.

These are very prosperous, highly motivated people that have achieved so much in their lives but have never mastered one of the skills that most of us learn at 16 years old — now some of this has to do with living in places like London or New York where driving is actually a detriment, but for others it has to do with simply not having an interest in driving.

So, can you be successful without learning to drive a car? Yup. Sure. You can work around it.

And can you go through life without knowing how to build a fire? Yup. Sure. You can work around that too.

But there will come a time — whether in the woods, in a cabin , or even in a survival situation — where you’ll need to. And knowing how means that you don’t have to ask someone for a ride.


There is one thing —- one single entity — that is the single most important part of  building a fire and the one that has the most impact. It’s also the first rule that’s ignored. It’s that you are building a fire. Not starting one, arranging one or finding one. But building one.

I’ve been on camping trips where I’ve seen guys throw a pile of sticks on the ground and light it and then get frustrated when a fire doesn’t magically appear.

You are building a fire. Constructing it. You are creating layer of light material that can be lit easily that will then light other slightly larger material which will then light slightly larger material in a precise manner so heat is created and larger pieces of wood can be burned. This is a constructing project not cooking.

Don’t be in a hurry. Take your time and get the foundation done and the fire will happen.

Years ago I was on a two day survival weekend with a group of people on Hiawatha Island in New York and one of our challenges was to build a fire with a battery and steel wool and then get a can of water to boil. Now as soon as the timer began — we were all racing against each other — we all scrambled to get materials. Now the guy who lit the fire last, the one who spent the most time on the construction of the fire, is the one who succeeded first. His fire went up quickly and efficiently and he actually worked less on the maintenance of the fire because his foundation was so solid.


Whether your building a fire in a fireplace, a pit, a stove or a camp the rules are all the same. You will need three types of wood:

  1. Tinder — pine needles, paper, dry leaves, dried grass, birch bark
  2. Kindling — small sticks under 1″, pine cones, bark, wood shavings.
  3. Fuel — sticks larger than 1” in diameter.

So your tinder goes in the basement of your construction project, the kindling above it and then the fuel either above that or added on once the fire gets going.

  1. Loosely pile the tinder in the center of fire pit or on yoru firegrate/stove. Be sure there is air around it for fuel.
  2. Add the kindling around the tinder so it catches. The two ways to do this are in a teepee — best for camp fires — or a frame, where you have large pieces off to the side and the kindling in the center. You can place the fuel on the edge but don’t rush it, you can always add the fuel when the kindling is hot.
  3. Light the tinder.
  4. Add more tinder as the fire grows — you want the flame to be high at first so it catches
  5. Then add more kindling — rule of thumb is get twice as much as you think you need. Remember kindling is more important that fuel. Getting the fire hot means you can add larger and ever wetter pieces later but not getting it hot means it has a chance of going out.
  6. Add fuel.

Experiment and play around. Building a fire should be something you’re confident in doing and may come in pretty handy someday.


Everett De Morier has appeared on CNN, Fox News Network, NPR, ABC, as well as in The New York Times and The London Times. He is the author of Crib Notes for the First Year of Marriage: A...