The ability to make fire is one of the basic skills that separate humans from our animal cousins. It is also one of the main skills need to survive in the wild. Unlike other skills it is not one of those that is nice to know- it is necessary. More important you must also possess the skill to make fire in any number of conditions, including when is or has been raining.
Before you can worry about starting a fire when it is raining, or after a recent rain for that fact, it is important to remember the three basic ingredients needed. Every fire needs tender, kindling and fuel.
Tender – small easy to light material used to capture the initial spark and which will than ignite and allow that spark to become larger flame.
Kindling – larger pieces which can be ignited by the burning tender. In general terms kindling is anything larger than your pinky but smaller than your wrist.
Fuel – this is the wood you will build your long-term fire with. The only real difference between fuel and kindling is size and the size of the fuel will increase as the fire is developed.
The only difference when conditions are wet is the ability to locate and utilize those ingredients.
When attempting to start or maintain a fire during wet conditions you need to locate sources of tender, kindling and fuel which will provide dry material. In the best situation you will have stockpiled each ahead of time, but we all know the real world is anything but perfect.
Often times the key is to look “up and under”. While it is often the practice to collect fire making materials from the ground this does not work when that ground is soaked by water. Instead you need to look up- into the higher areas of trees- or under- in areas sheltered from rain such as under blowdowns.
Search for smaller, dead twigs or dried bark and even dead pine needles. Even in a steady rain this can be found on the downwind side of standing timber. Do not overlook irregular sources of tender either such as bird’s nests or debris which may be trapped in branches either.
If you are unable to locate truly dry material look for those which will burn even when wet, such as birch bark or pine wood saturated with pine sap (often referred to as fat wood). A wet stick or branch can also be whittled to expose a dry underlying surface.
When looking for kindling and fuel you will search the same sources except your focus will be on larger and longer burning pieces. Splitting larger pieces will allow you to burn damp pieces by exposing dry interior, like when you whittled tender. Once a fire is established wood will not need to be 100% dry, however, the amount of damp wood you attempt to burn will affect the quality of the fire and the amount of attention it needs. When burning damp wood, it is important maintain a healthy bed of hot coals and tend the fire frequently.
Still not convinced you can build a fire in the rain? For more information and tips on this life saving skill check out this YouTube video.