Build a Signal Fire

signal-fire-pic-499x490“Build a signal fire (but don’t light it yet) and prepare other signals” is step #6 in “Steps to take after an accident or breakdown in the wilderness”.

It is extremely difficult to see people on the ground from the air. Even some wreckage is hard to see, depending on the bush or other surroundings. When Search and Rescue are looking for someone, if they don’t see them in one area, they move on. So it would be a great shame if you heard them coming, and they fly over and don’t see you. That is why signaling is such a priority, even before organic food, water and shelter.

Smoke is very easy to see from the air, so a signal fire is one of the most popular techniques taught on survival courses. Here is how to make one if you have trees around you. But even if you don’t, the idea is to make a fire and put something above it that will cause smoke without putting the fire out. If you have time afterwards, and space and resources, you can also build three fires in a triangle, or anything else in a triangle, which is the international distress signal.

Signal Fire Construction

  • Make the fire in a clearing so it doesn’t set surrounding trees on fire.
  • Cut 3 branches to make a tri-pod frame, about the size of your own height with your arm up high.
  • Tie them together at the top with wire or green creeper branches, etc.
  • Cut 3 shorter sticks to tie horizontally across these, as a platform, about 1/3 up. (See diagrams below)
  • Lay sticks across these to form a platform for your fire.
  • Build a fire on the platform, starting with very fine material like dry grass, birch bark, etc.
  • (See the section “Build a camp fire if needed” below for more on fires.)
  • This fire has to start burning quickly, as soon as you hear SAR, and give off smoke before they are gone.
  • Put dry twigs on top of that, followed by dry branches.
  • Have some dry grass, etc. hanging below the platform for you to light easily when you hear SAR.
  • When your fire is built, start hanging green leafy branches from the top of the tripod.
  • Put lots on top, so the flames will hit the green boughs and smoke like crazy when needed!
  • See “Making Fire” in the next section for more details on getting a fire started.

11Step 1

112Step 2

This technique works great. On survival courses, the requirement is to have the smoke rising within 30 seconds of hearing SAR. And, it makes so much smoke that we have to warn the nearby airport and authorities before hand so they don’t get alarmed! In the photo below, the green leafy branches are hanging much further down they hide the fire platform. You can see some fire on the ground. It is the tinder that was used to start the main fire.

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