In this post I want to take a look at ‘fire lays’, or put simply, different ways of setting up your fire. And, much like lighting a fire, ask 10 people their preferred fire lay and you’ll get 11 answers. I’m going to describe a few fire lays that I use on a regular basis.
I’ve written about the ‘V’ lay previously but want to look at a coupe of alternatives now. I mentioned that the windier or wetter it is, the more tinder and first stage kindling you need. Well sometimes if it’s very wet or windy I’ll use four bunches of match stick thick twigs, two to make the ‘V’ shape and then two to sit on top of the tinder once it’s alight. In this photo I used birch twigs to construct the ‘V’ and cleavers with a little sweet chestnut inner bark as the tinder.
When it’s windy you can sometimes find that your fire gets blown along the ground. This could be troublesome if you’ve constructed a pot hanger above your fire, the fire’s no longer under the pot! You can resolve this simply by constructing the ‘V’ from greenwood which will burn much slower and keep the fire stationary.
I use the star lay all the time, it’s really fuel efficient and means that I don’t have to cut anything, just use logs whatever length they may be. Typically I use the star lay under the kettle; the four smoldering logs provide enough heat to keep the water hot, and by adding a few thin sticks you can increase the heat to bring it to the boil. It’s a welcome sight for our students as they wander into camp in the mornings.
The major disadvantage of the star lay is that it needs to be tended; leave it alone for much more than half an hour and it will burn itself out. With that said, quite often it’s just a case of shoving the logs in so that the ends are back touching each other, and concentrating the heat, adding a few thin sticks and blowing.
A long fire is ideal if you need a fire to keep you warm. Simply make the fire long enough to provide heat to your whole body. Be particularly careful to get your fire lined up with the wind, you don’t want smoke or, more importantly, sparks blowing on you when you’re asleep.
You can lay a log on either side of the fire; this is often referred to as a hunter’s fire. You can then simply lay a couple of green sticks across to support a pot.
I’ve also counterbalanced logs so that they’re directly over the fire. They will burn and then drop down into the main fire. Then you can shove them forward again and repeat the cycle until they’re burnt away.
Criss cross lay
I often refer to this fire lay as a ‘jenga’ fire due to its similarity to the game. There are at least two variations to this one: light it at the bottom or light it at the top. Regardless of which end you intend to light it, it’s important that you construct it from materials that are more or less the same diameter and quality; this is so that the ‘tower’ you construct doesn’t topple over
If I want a lot of embers to cook I’ll light the fire at the bottom. It produces a lot of flame and a lot of heat but is short lived. The jenga tower in these photos was constructed on one of our 5 day bushcraft courses held at the end of October. We used the embers to cook roast potatoes, roasted vegetables, a gammon joint and finished it off with an apple and blackberry crumble.
It’s also a good lay for a signal fire; build the tower and then build a platform over it and cover it with vegetation that’ll create a lot of smoke; the vegetation will also provide a waterproof roof to keep your materials dry and ready to go when you need it. We look at signal fires on our 5 day survival course.
Lighting a jenga tower at the top seems counter intuitive, but it does work. As the fire burns each layer in turn it drops down to the layer below. It provides a long lasting fire without much ongoing management. The fire in the photo was relatively small but still burnt for an hour and a half.
And finally, not really a fire lay at all, but you’ve got to love a Swedish candle! This photo was taken in September 2018 on a course we run on the beautiful Isle of Arran.
As always, get out and practice, and with fire lighting get out and practice when it’s raining!