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There are four optional tinder sources that can help with making a fire in an emergency situation. The ability to make a fire is an essential part of survival in the outdoors or in an emergency situation. The experts usually discuss making a fire with the use of natural materials. Demonstrations of primitive fire making occupy the discussions in the survival and outdoor literature. One of the essentials of making a fire is the use of combustible materials to start a fire. Let us take a look at some optional tinder sources to consider for your fire-making kit.

Cotton Balls or Cotton Pads

The most common type of optional tinder source are cotton balls. Cotton fiber is a natural material from cotton plants. The fibers are harvested and processed into cotton balls at a cotton mill. If you happen to be going by a cotton field you may see cotton-like balls on the plants. These white balls are called, bolls. Cotton bolls are combustible material. Cotton bolls are not as dense as the cotton balls in the local grocery store.

Moreover, a simple cotton ball will take a spark very easily. It has one disadvantage; the cotton fibers burn very quickly. Potentially, the cotton ball can burn out before a tinder bundle can catch on fire. There are a couple of ways to help the cotton ball hold or extend a flame once the fibers begin to ignite. One method to help the cotton ball hold a flame is to saturate it in candle wax. Another method is to saturate the cotton ball in petroleum jelly. Candle wax and petroleum jelly produce the same affect on the cotton fibers as a wick on a candle. They help the fibers burn more slowly while retaining the flame. Thus, after application of the wax and petroleum jelly to cotton, they act as fire or flame extenders when the cotton fibers catch fire. In turn, the cotton ball now is an optional tinder source.

Hand Sanitizer

A second tinder option for your fire making kit is a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer contains both rubbing and ethyl alcohol at a concentration between 65% and 95%. The kind of ethyl alcohol that is in hand sanitizers is flammable. As a result, the liquid or semi-jellied hand sanitizer will ignite with a heat source such as a match, butane lighter, or ferro rod. The semi-jellied compound that forms the hand sanitizer does not evaporate easily and will hold a flame longer that just the liquid alcohol by itself. However, when liquid hand sanitizer combines with other tinder sources, it functions as an accelerant to create fire. Not only is liquid hand sanitizer a good consideration as an optional tinder source, hand sanitizing wipes are also a excellent options for a tinder source.

The best hand sanitizing wipes are those individually wrapped by Purell™. Hand sanitizing wipes are different from an alcohol wipe that is in a first aid kit. They are also different from a Wet Wipe®. The hand sanitizing wipes have a concentration of ethyl alcohol of between 50 and 70 percent (PURELL® Hand Sanitizing Wipes Alcohol Formula, Safety Data Sheet, 2016). This makes them an ideal item for a personal emergency survival kit or to keep in your wallet, purse, or backpack as a multi-use component of your EDC loadout.

 

Alcohol Prep Wipes

The third household item that makes a great tinder for fire making are the alcohol prep wipes in your household first aid kit. These wipes contain up to 60% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol infused into a small paper or cotton cloth square. It is important to know that there is another kind of wipe in a first aid kit that is an antiseptic wipe containing .13% benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient. Benzalkonium Chloride is an antimicrobial soapy substance which makes it useless for making emergency fires.

Furthermore, the major difference between using a wipe that contains hand sanitizer and one with rubbing alcohol is burn time. Rubbing alcohol evaporates very quickly and when it ignites it will burn off before the paper or cotton square starts to burn. Remember that experiment your high school chemistry teacher did by soaking a wash cloth in rubbing alcohol and lighting it on fire and the cloth did not burn? By contrast, the wipes containing hand sanitizer will burn more slowly and this quality makes them ideal for starting an emergency fire for survival.

 

Dryer Lint

A fourth household item that makes a wonderful optional tinder source for emergency fires is dryer lint. There are many blog articles and YouTube® videos discussing the various ways to employ dryer lint as a fire making item. Dryer lint has a similar quality to cotton balls. Loose fibers from the clothes that are being dried fall off of due to the rubbing and tumbling in the dryer. Those fibers collect on the lint catch. They, then, can be collected for later use to start an emergency fire. The major difference between dryer lint and cotton balls is that dryer lint sometimes has within it multiple types of fibers, such as cotton, wool, and polyester.

Final Thoughts

A major component of survival is being adept at improvisation. The homesteading community calls it “repurposing”. The list of optional sources of tinder are by no means exhaustive. There are many other kinds of materials that can function as tinder sources. The experts agree that being able to make a fire in an emergency is essential for wilderness survival. The same skill also is critical in an emergency in other locations such as a suburban or urban environment. Therefore, improvising tinder materials from household items is one way to think outside the box to prepare for an emergency.

“The psychological effects of being able to start a fire should not be underestimated; neither should the effects of not being able to start one.”

In any survival situation maintaining your core body temperature is critical.  It could be the difference between life and death. Beyond Shelter (See part 1 CBT Shelter Blog post) fire is crucial.  It has the ability to form a micro climate to protect you from the elements, treat water, cook food, sterilize for first aid, and provide comfort and security.  It cannot be underestimated.

I could write several blog post on the fundamentals of fire alone, but I will stick to just a few key principles.

Four Stages of Fire: By most standards there are 4 stages of a fire. These stages are incipient, growth, fully developed, and decay.

  • Incipient/Ignition – This first stage begins with the Fire Triangle

The Fire Triangle: Too often we think of fire as an object, and fail to understand the reaction that takes place.  Fire is an event.  When the elements of Fuel, Oxygen, and Heat are combined they create combustion which results in FIRE!

  • Growth –  This is where the combustibles and oxygen are used as fuel for the fire. Usually consist of isolated flames.   There are numerous factors affecting the growth stage.       Factors that affect fire development
    1. Fuel type
    2. Availability of air supply
    3. Availability and proximity of additional fuel
    4. Ventilation and changes in ventilation
    5. Ambient conditions (e.g. wind, temperature, humidity, etc.)
  • Fully Developed – When all combustible materials have been ignited, a fire is considered fully developed.  This is the hottest phase of a fire and the point where it produces the most heat.
  • Decay – Usually the longest stage of a fire, the decay stage is characterized a significant decrease in one or more of the elements found in the triangle of fire, putting an end to the fire.

Now that you have a simple overview of the stages of fire, let us look at several different methods for starting a fire.

5 Primary Fire Methods/Ignitions

Friction – Ferro Rod / Bow Drill / Hand Drill / Fire Saw / Fire Plow

Solar – Magnifying Lens (position, angle, and sturdiness is key) (char-cloth, fungus, ball)

Percussion – Flint and Steel

Electrical – Battery & Steel Wool

Chemical – Potassium Permanganate & Glycerin

Be sure to lay down a proper fire platform (ground barrier), and a well prepped tinder bundle before starting a fire.  We have several videos on many of these fire methods.  Having an adequate amount kindling will also greatly impact the effectiveness of your fire.

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Extinguish 

Always properly extinguish your fires.  Fire Control Theory – fire is controlled and extinguished by limiting or interrupting one or more of the essential elements in the fire triangle.  Before you leave make ash soup.  If you cant place your hands in the coals/ash without burning yourself then you have not properly extinguished your fire.

 

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