8. OVERCOMING HUMIDITY : FIRE EXTENDERS
One last tip/trick that I want to share with you that is particularly helpful in extremely humid conditions is to overcome that humidity with a “fire extender”.
Remember the scenario that I described previously where you are able to get your tinder ignited with a fire steel or ember from a bow drill only to have it almost immediately go out for no apparent reason? Yeah… that is really frustrating. If you find yourself in such a situation (where humidity levels are about 60% or higher), then look around for some kind of natural fire extender before you get started so you don’t waste your effort.
First and foremost, let’s define “fire extender” for you. A fire extender is simply a material that lights from a flame (as opposed to a spark or ember) fairly easily but stays lit for minutes at a time. For example, materials like cattail and milkweed dander will easily ignite from a tiny spark. The problem is they also tend to burn very quickly and, in humid conditions, they often burn up SO quickly and completely that they fail to ignite the next level up in your fuel transition and your flame goes out before your larger tinder or kindling could combust.
Enter the “fire extender”. “Fire extenders” are merely helpful additives (either natural or synthetic) that you combine with your tinder so that you get the best of both worlds: A) quick and easy ignition and B) extended/sustained combustion (flame). You basically use a “fire extender” to extend the life of your quick-burning tinder, exposing your larger tinder/kindling materials to heat much longer. Adding a fire extender to the mix can be the difference between success and complete failure when attempting to start a fire in extremely humid conditions.
The best example that I can give you of this is one that most wilderness survival enthusiasts are familiar with: The petroleum jelly cotton ball (PJCB). If you aren’t familiar with the PJCB, then allow me to introduce you. They are basically THE BEST “fire starters” for numerous reasons: They are cheap, easy to make yourself, virtually waterproof, are INCREDIBLY easy to light with even the tiniest spark, and burn for minutes at a time.
Now cotton balls by themselves ignite very easily with a tiny spark, but they don’t burn for minutes on their own like they do if you saturate them with petroleum jelly first. So in this example, the tiny, thin fibers of the cotton ball make a terrific receptacle for a spark (tinder) but their performance is improved drastically when combined with the long-burning petroleum jelly (fire extender).
There are lots of materials that you can use as effective fire extenders like petroleum jelly, wax, paraffin, rubber (bicycle inner tubes work great), plastic, and SO many more. But since this article is specifically about starting fires with wet wood using only natural materials, let’s take a look at some examples of those instead:
NATURAL Fire Extenders:
Some of your best and most common natural “fire extenders” are going to come from highly resinous woods like pine and birch. From these trees you can gather liquid sap right from the tree trunk, use the hardened chunks of sap/resin on the outside of the tree trunk, use shaving or scrapings of the bark itself (particularly birch bark), or even harvest what is known as “fat wood” or “fat lighter” which is basically wood that possesses unusually high concentrations of resin.
This phenomenon (the formation of “fat wood”) tends to occur in damaged or fallen resinous trees (most notably pine varieties), trunks or stumps that have gathered and concentrated resin after the tree was abruptly severed.
These types of natural “fire extenders” are INCREDIBLE assets in a survival situation (especially a wet one!) and learning how to locate and use these natural resources is a terrific survival skill.