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The survival value of fire

By Pieter Steyn

It is said that man’s three greatest inventions in order of priority are:

• Fire
• The wheel
• The bow and arrow

Let us consider for a moment what a fire means to the survivor who has
suddenly been removed from his comfort zone and is now immersed into
what is perceived to be a hostile and dangerous environment.

< Collect enough wood to last the night if you are out in the bush where dangerous animals live.

North, south, east, west – there is no place like home. Think of home. It is a place where you are fed, kept safe and enjoy warmth and light.

In this sentence we have identified the five most valuable qualities of fire to the survivor.

Fire is one of the great morale boosters to the survivor. Not only because of it’s other values but for the sense of being "home". A place where you can rest and be made to feel reasonably comfortable and secure.

> The value of fire is immense. It can be used for cooking, washing, purifying, sterilising and to prepare natural medicines.

Speak to anyone who has been lost in the bush – especially where dangerous animals are to be found – who has not been able to make a fire, and hear them speak of fear, the terror of the dark – not being able to see, experiencing that awful feeling that something is sneaking up to you. Feel the biting cold. Praying for the dawn to come so that the inky blackness can be driven back.

Compare this to the bush dweller who has enjoyed the benefits of a fire and the morale value of fire becomes immediately apparent.

Cooking and water purification
Fire has immense value for cooking food, making it far more palatable and safe to eat. The ability to boil water is of critical importance to the survivor. Extended boiling is one of the safest ways of making water safe to drink. The heat of fire and the availability of boiling water also enables the survivor to sterilize instruments and utensils. Being able to warm water for washing, enhances personal hygiene and is a big morale booster. The availability of fire, hot and boiling water are necessary for the preparation of many natural medicines.

< Warmth from the cold and protection from gangerous animals make controlled fire a good friend to have.

In cold climates the heat provided by fire is life saving. One generally thinks of cold weather in terms of those geographical regions that are snow and ice covered and whereas this is true it must also be remembered that freezing, life threatening cold can be encountered in temperate, sub-tropical and desert regions.

Humans can die quickly from cold exposure if they are not dressed correctly and can have access to shelter and warmth. There are few things more comforting and morale boosting than a good fire when it is cold. The heat of fire is also valuable for drying out wet clothing and equipment.

Animals like lion, leopard, and hyaena are most active at night and it is in the dark that they pose the greatest danger for the survivor in wild country. In the day, these species are generally afraid of humans and will run away if they see, hear, or smell humans approaching. At night their behaviour patterns change and they become far more bold and show far less fear of man. Their hunting instincts become strongly driven by the element of the dark.
Fire then becomes an important factor for survival as a big fire will keep these animal at a distance – especially if there is someone awake and moving about stoking the fire, cooking, etc. It is important to keep the fire going and not allow it to burn down to coals. Sufficient firewood must be collected before it gets dark to last through the night.

Some animals like rhino and hippo can be attracted to fire but as long as there is a tree close by in which one can clamber it is safer having a fire than not having one at all.

Being able to see when it is dark is vitally important. Most nocturnal animals have good night vision whereas the human is virtually blind in the dark. To be able to see a dangerous animal enables you to respond in a positive and decisive way – you can aim a weapon to shoot it, you can throw stones at it, if you can see it you can evade it.

Light also enables you to carry on with survival tasks – making weapons, cooking food, treating wounds – the myriad tasks requiring attention are far easier to accomplish when there is light enough to see by.

The light of a fire can also be seen at a distance and will assist search parties or spotter aircraft in rescuing you.

There are many uses of fire - some which we have not mentioned in this introductory article but which will be dealt with in future.

The importance of fire as a survival tool cannot be emphasized enough and in this series we are going to look at fire making techniques, the uses of fire, and the dangers of fire to the survivor.

The ability to make fire is one of your most important survival skills.



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073 151 1992
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