You need three things for a fire: fuel, oxygen, spark. People make mistakes in all three areas. After enough experience, starting and tending a fire is instinctive.

The last two summers, I worked at a Christian outdoor camp where part of my job was to build fires. There’s a big difference between a punk pyromaniac and a survivalist. I’m the latter, a traditionalist. Making a fire with flint and steel is for diehards, and I’ve made a fire that way twice. Not many people know how to guide a tiny spark into a robust fire anymore.

My first flint and steel fire was two years ago at my first summer working at camp. I was in a large clearing with the other camp staff, and our boss was showing us how to make flint and steel fires.

The steel ring fit into my hand like a brass knuckle. In my other hand, I gripped the flint stone, and I pinned a swatch (charcoal cloth) against the flint to catch the sparks.

I struck down with the steel ring and grazed the flint. Sharper than a surgeon’s knife, the flint sliced off flecks of super-hot steel. Sparks burst outward. I continued until a spark lit the swatch, it glowed and the fire slowly began eating outward.

I stuffed the swatch into a ball of unraveled jute twine, cupped the ball in my hands, and breathed into it. When the jute ignited, the flame was like the birth of a new star, a flash of light that only I saw.

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