Open fires are discouraged in frequently used areas and beside tracks. Ideally, choose an isolated, gravelly river bed for the fire. Usually plenty of patience, a stack of prepared dry, split kindling and a candle to start the fire with are needed. Use driftwood, or dead standing timber and ruthlessly discard fuchsia and all wet, or rotten wood. Look for dry material under overhanging trees, or banks. Another source of dryish kindling in beech forests are the ends of the low-growing branches of the beech trees. Split wood catches easier than whole branches, or twigs. The key is to take extra time to find the driest initial material you can get before lighting the fire. Never cut live trees.
For any fire, it is imperative that there is a good vapour barrier between the fire and the ground to ensure that the fire does not extinguish itself by “sucking” water out of the surrounding soil as it gets started. A layer of rocks and stones is generally adequate for this purpose.
A fireplace made of large rocks with a downwind wall is best. Under no circumstances build the fire against a tree, over major roots, under low hanging branches, or close to tussocks. When setting up the fireplace, take the time to set up a crane from which to hang the billy: a simple A-frame arrangement for the crane support made of two small Y-shaped branches is effective and stable, or use the rocks forming the fireplace walls if they are tall and stable enough.
Place a lit candle stub where the fire is to be built and place handfuls of very small twigs, shavings and small amounts of dry leaves over it. As they catch, add plenty of material of gradually increasing size. Lengths of rubber bike tube slid over twigs also make good fire starters. If necessary, fan the fire with a billy lid. Feed the fire and be prepared to leave it alone to build up heat before catching fire. If necessary, make a small wall of wet wood around the fire once it is going to dry. The wetter the wood, the bigger the fire needs to be in order to sustain itself.
Leave some dry fuel under cover for the morning.
If you plan to leave the fire unattended, put it out. Ensure that water used to dampen the fireplace saturates the area, and scuff the coals and ash with your boots to make a porridge, ensuring no live embers remain. Take particular care to ensure that no live coals are left under larger rocks.
When leaving, dismantle the fireplace and return any rocks you have moved. Completely disperse any leftover firewood and throw charred logs into the river, or into the bushes. Aim to restore the fire area as much as possible to blend in again with the natural surroundings: no obvious sign should be visible of where the fire has been.
This page is a reproduction of the relevant section of FMC’s Safety in the Mountains booklet; first published in 1937, and still in print today, 11 editions later. You can buy your copy from the FMC website, at near giveaway price. More than 130,000 copies of this distilled mountain wisdom have found their way in to packs, huts and collections of generations of outdoors enthusiasts.