Fire Basics

Once you’ve covered the basic safety and a little fire lighting technique stuff, it’s pretty easy to let students go and experiment. Usually, things don’t happen very quickly unless you have a flint and steel wizard in the ranks.

You will need:

  • A flint and steel – one between two.
  • A metal tray – ours are Euro Shop baking trays
  • Cotton wool – If you have the choice between pads or balls, go balls.
  • A container for water
  • A knee pad – helpful for students who don’t want to get their trousers dirty when using the respect position.

The Big 3 Safety Rules

We introduce our fire safety rules by using the Big 3. These are Water First, Space and the Respect Position.

Water First

As a general rule, water should always be collected first. If you’re lighting and maintaining a larger fire, a full watering is necessary. When working with small amounts of cotton wool, a smaller container is acceptable.

In the excitement of gathering fire lighting materials, it is easy to overlook this important safety rule because you don’t actually need the wet stuff to get the fire going. The water should be there for when you need it. If something spits out of the fire and keeps burning on the ground, your water is right there as opposed to you having to run off to get it.

The Respect Position

When inside the fire circle or next to a fire lighting bowl, we ask students to use the respect position. This position involves having one knee on the ground, not unlike the position one would get themselves into to propose marriage. It is important that the front leg is vertical from the knee down and the person’s behind is up, and not resting on the back foot.

The respect position is useful for several reasons. A person with both knees on the floor has nothing but their hands to stop them from falling forward. A crouched position can be unstable and wobbly, which is not great when you need to be in control around a fire. If sitting directly on the floor next to a fire, it can take time to get up and move. The respect position is stable and allows a person to move back, away from a fire quickly if necessary. At the same time, the vertical front leg makes it difficult for a person to fall, or be accidentally pushed, forwards.


In the same way as when using a knife, it is important to have a good amount of space when creating a fire. For us, this goes one of two ways:

1) When practicing fire lighting with small amounts of cotton wool, the size of your space bubble should be your two arms outstretched. The location of the space bubble is important too. The middle of a path is not a good choice because people are going to walk by.

2) When we have a bigger fire in the fire circle, our space rule is a follows: When inside the fire circle, students must be in the respect position. To move from one log to another, students must step out of the circle and walk around the outside.

To help students get to grips with this principle, we play a game of Fruit Salad. Go around the circle assigning each child one of three fruits of your choice. When their fruit is called, a student must step out of the fire circle and find a new seat by walking around the outside. Of course, when “Fruit Salad” is called, everyone goes for it at once. Gently remind students who cross the circle that they’ve fallen into the fire.  

A couple of other things

Introduce students to where things live. Keep track of what you have so it doesn’t get lost or pocketed accidentally.
Long hair should be tied back, and not dangling anywhere near the sparks from a flint and steel

What Do We Need?

After covering the safety aspects, we display a selection of items that could be used for fire lighting. Through a quick discussion, we eliminate the things that we don’t need and talk about the things that we do. Some guiding discussion points:

  • Is a piece of wood a good fuel choice if we’re only just learning flint and steel technique?
  • Do we need a huge container of water if we’re only lighting a small amount of cotton wool?
  • Why is Vaseline here?
  • What kind of container is best for lighting a fire in?
  • Gloves, fire or otherwise, are not necessary when using a flint and steel.

I’ve lit fires before, and your rules are a load of rubbish

Every now and again, you might find yourself defending your rationale for fire safety. If students have had a fire with family before, they probably didn’t use the respect position. Why would they? If we’re having a fire in the learning space without students, then sometimes the RP doesn’t get used. The respect position and other fire safety rules exist as a method for maintaining discipline around a fire when using it as a learning experience with bigger groups. Having all 20-30 students standing close to the fire because Jimmy’s grandad didn’t make Jimmy do the RP can result in quite a hair raising fire session for the educator.

My way or the highway?

This way of doing things is what we are doing right now. We are not suggesting that this is the only way. Far from it. On our Forest School L3 course, the trainer liked to have an entrance and exit for her fire circle. How you run your fire and maintain discipline is up to you, but there must be discipline. A Laissez-Faire approach to fire discipline is not good. Get it together.