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Keeping the hearth fire burning isn't as easy as it looks...

While I was away this last week, I was responsible for my own heating in a way city dwellers like me rarely need to worry about: the lighting and maintenance of a hearth fire.

No electric or gas or central heating is to be found up here; since this place is not on the grid. Electricity is generated by solar and wind power and stored in batteries, so needs to be managed carefully. If you want to keep warm, you’ve gotta move your body or light a fire. A wood fire.

Yes, yes I know… blah blah environment, burning wood, pollution etc. But that’s how it’s done in the country.

Certainly, this far from the first fire I’ve ever had to light. But it sure is the first time I’ve had to do it every day, all day and night. To keep away the brrrr factor.

Starting a fire has an aspect of beginners luck – it’s real easy as long as you follow the basics.

But keeping a fire going, and knowing when to throw on the next biggest piece, and how to bank them overnight? Not so easy after the beginner’s luck wears off. Especially when you’re new to the role of Fire Sentinel.

So here are some lessons I learnt this week from lighting and maintaining the heat:

  • Always follow the basics: start with wispy kindling, then smaller pieces, then mid-size ones, and then finally you can throw that darn log on the fire.
  • Fire starters are handy: a little ultra-flammable stuff that can give you a kick-start.
  • The brightest fires are the ones that have enough air to breathe. If you try to add too much fuel, too early, you’ll smother it.
  • There’s an axe outside near the woodpile. Use it. It’ll help build core strength and you’ll get a little warmer just by cutting up wood, too.
  • Sometimes you’ll run out of the right sized pieces of wood. Don’t try to cheat and just go up a size: you’ll end up with a fire that goes out on you and you’ll have to start again. Which is a pain in the ass.
  • Never turn your back on the fire for too long. You can’t rely on just the way the fire sounds or feels. It’s really important to do visual spot checks, for all kinds of reasons.
  • Don’t get stuck in the Small Pieces of Wood Game. It’s possible to get into a loop of:
    Kindling > Sticks > Small pieces of wood
    Then not get the timing right for throwing on a larger piece, and so your fire goes out again. And again.
  • When you’re trying to build your fire, the timing is never 100% clear. Sometimes you’ve just gotta wing it. Throw on a log, not another same-size piece. See what happens.
  • You don’t wanna burn too bright or fast, coz that can make you uncomfortable. Mix your fuel types – some of the logs that burn longer vs the ones that burn hotter.

And… perhaps this is somewhat of a twee analogy but…

Fires are a bit like people: our passions, goals and ambitions.

Timing is important, and air and space and the right sized piece of fuel at the right time.

But most of all – vigilance; stamina; repetitive actions; appropriate levels of manual labour; and ongoing observation of where your fire is at.

These are how we keep our own internal fires burning.

Yeah I know. Too much time alone in the bush with only birds and ‘roos for company, eh?

~ Svasti