Building a fire

One of my favourite things about festivals is sitting round a campfire on a cold evening watching the flames. Jacket potatoes taste amazing when cooked in a real wood fire. Children love to toast marshmallows and poke the flames with sticks, and it helps them to learn about fire safety.

In my previous post I went through the equipment that is useful to have to cook on a fire. In this one I have provided a simple step by step guide to building and lighting one.

Building a fire is an essential survival skill and is great fun for kids too. My children enjoy collecting tinder, kindling and firewood among the trees. They appreciate the responsibility at being allowed to help light the fire.

Managing it and helping keeping it lit gives them a respect for fire. Of course close supervision is still necessary but leaving a child ‘in charge’ of keeping the fire going can be great for their confidence too.

Not many festivals allow open fires, but most will allow you to make one in a fire pit. Always check the rules on the festival website before you go.

Cooking damper bread on a fire

You need five things before you start a fire:


This can be a match, lighter, or tinder sticks.

If you want to learn how to light a fire as a survival method you could always try a bow drill! I tried this once at a festival workshop. I managed to get it going eventually but it took a long time so I wouldn’t rely on it!


Anything that will light easily with a spark – dried grass or leaves, newspaper, cardboard – whatever you have to hand. Make sure you fold the paper or cardboard as much as possible so it will burn longer. The best cardboard to burn is empty egg boxes, as these have no plastic coating so burn well – be warned some cardboard won’t burn. If you’re really desperate, crisps also burn very well!


Medium sized materials that will catch flame from the tinder quickly such as small twigs and sticks, or larger pieces of bark. This is a great thing to get children to collect for you as any sticks off the ground will do. You can buy packs of kindling if you don’t want to fetch it.


Many festivals sell bags of wood, or if you are going to one of the wilder festivals you may be able to find some yourself – always only pick up logs from the ground and never cut them off trees. Of course you can also order it off the internet in advance – I like these environmentally friendly smokeless logs as you get less complaining from the children about smoke in their eyes!


Always keep some water to hand in case the fire gets out of control. If you do have to use it – sprinkle and don’t pour.

Forest Jack at Into The Trees

How to build and light a fire

1. Clear a space for your fire.

Make sure you have a large enough flat space free of anything flammable. Common advice is to have at least 10 metres between your tent and an open fire (on the ground). Tents are incredibly flammable and I have seen them go up in flames in seconds. At a festival there’s not so much room, which is why most will only allow fires in a fire pit. If you are not using a fire pit, make sure you clear out the ground, and put large stones around the outside of the fire to prevent it from spreading.

2. Fill the centre with tinder.

3. Stack the kindling in a teepee shape over the tinder.

Leave an opening in the side the wind is blowing against. This will allow the wind to blow the flames against the kindling, and also make it easier to light.

4. Stack a few pieces of wood around the kindling in a teepee shape.

Again – leave plenty of gaps in the wood. The trick to getting a fire going is to allow air to circulate.

5. Ignite the tinder.

Once the tinder is lit, blow on it gently to help it catch.

Never leave your fire unattended, and always make sure it is fully out before you go to bed. NEVER build a fire inside your tent!

Campfire marshmallows

Look out for my next post – Campfire recipes!

Read my last post – Cooking on a fire – for a list of equipment needed.