This is a funny story, kind of, now that it’s in the past I guess I think it’s funny. Here’s a little back story first. This summer was awesome. Dear friends of ours fell in love with the area when we moved here and on our 1-year mountain anniversary they moved their family of 5 into our guest cabin while they shopped the area for a home of their own. Our kids are all around the same age and they decided to homeschool for a while until they had their new life here sorted. We woke up to a full class of eager adventure-hungry homeschool kids every morning. My girlfriend and I were awfully busy keeping these little minds busy this summer, but we had a blast and the kids all learned a lot.
Now this last summer was one of the driest summers on record for much of British Columbia. It was a scorcher in most places but the worst part was that we barely had a drop of rain past May. The fires around the province were fierce and they were everywhere. Travel had to be planned around highway closures and it seemed that everyone was on standby and watching for smoke. Our house was no different. Perched atop this mountain gave us a unique vantage point and the opportunity to watch water bombers while keep an eye peeled for smoke on the neighbouring hills.
One day in August we had our own close call when smoke billowed from the cigarette-fire on the other side of the mountain and it started racing for the peak. We were lucky, but were also prepared. I had just finished having a brewed-by-friend coffee at the guest cabin and was walking back to my house when the black smoke started thundering into the sky from over the peak. Luckily, both she and I are “preppers”. We’ve got stocked emergency kits, we know where all our documents are and we’re passing those neurotic (albeit helpful) qualities down to our children. The kids had their just-in-case bags packed and ready like the good little preppers they are. So when that smoke started climbing we had 5 kids, 4 adults, 4 horses, 6 dogs, 6 cats, a rabbit and a hamster packed and ready in 30 minutes. Now I should add that we also had a cow and 70 chickens at this time that we were going to turn loose as we drove out the driveway. We’re not saints, we’re realists and it wasn’t actually possible to take it all. It’s possible that I may have thrown Big Momma (my favourite chicken) on my lap as we sped away, but I guess we’ll never know. We waited for the evacuation but luckily it never came. In two trucks and two trailers we had food, water, fuel and emergency supplies to keep us all alive for a week at least. It was a feat and a half but we did it and we were immensely proud of ourselves.
So how do two neurotic planners with emergency savvy kids get caught with their pants down in fire season? Well… they have kids obviously. In the middle of a heat wave, surrounded by tinder and passing water bombers you never expect to hear, “The boys are trying to start a fire under the bushes!” Back to reality and off our high horse these two mountain mommas were tossed. I don’t think either of us have ever ran so fast. Again, we were lucky and the kids didn’t have all the skills to start a fire yet. It became the lesson of the season that’s for sure. They were so embarrassed, we almost didn’t need to get mad. You know that mental lapse we all have at some point in our lives, that moment where curiosity seems to trump common sense and we fear that maybe we’re not actually very smart? Come on, I know you’ve felt that way too. Well this was the case for our boys, and even for us in some ways. Luckily when the dads came home from work it was a funny story rather than an evacuation notice.
So I bet you thought this was going to be a post about being prepared for fires and how to drill in to your kids the dangers of fire and how to prevent them. That’s part of it really and without the back story you may think me a fool, but this is actually about teaching your kids how to make a fire. This will be age appropriate of course, but you’re the parent and only you know your children. I now hurl the responsibility and discretion up to you whether your kids are ready for this.
Now in each of my boys’ Adventure Packs they carry a couple of homemade lightweight and some waterproof matches. My eldest now has a flint stick and striker that he got with a leatherman, but he doesn’t know how to use it yet.
Learning how to make a fire is essential to survival, you need to keep warm and it’s helpful to eat – although you can live for a long time without it and a granola bar or a protein bar will tide you over. We started by making homemade fire starters one day as a homeschooling project. We took lint from the dryer and melted and poured wax on top. The wax helps slow down the burn of the lint so that you have a longer light time for the tinder you use to start the fire. I quick gust of flame is often not enough to get the fire going, especially when you’re using cold or wet tinder and kindling. We stored our prepared fire starters in tiny tins that I had left over from tea samples. They were light and waterproof – perfect. I suggest using what you have laying around, even if it’s just a ziplock bag. Keywords being – LIGHT and WATERPROOF. We made three each so the boys could have two in their pack and use one to test. Below are some pictures of the boys making their magic.
Once our fire starters were complete we took them out into the snow to see whether the boys could make a fire on their own. They dug a deep hole in the snow about 2′ in diameter, they scraped the bottom of the hole bare so that their fire would be on as little snow as possible. They went to the surrounding trees (and into our wood shed) and got tiny sticks (think needle sized and up), pine needles, lots of moss and then some larger sticks. They put their fire starter down first and surrounded it with moss, gently resting the tiny sticks above the mass. Now we make a lot of fires at our home as our house is exclusively wood heat, so the concept of needing the fire to breathe and general fire building is not new to them. The idea of building it in the cold, with snow that turns to water when melted and keeping it out of the wind were all new challenges that they had to solve. With a little encouragement and a sitting on cold knees while they SLOWLY fed the fire, it worked! Success using only one fire starter, but it did need a lot of patience.