The worst possible conditions for starting a fire are often when you need it the most to survive, like when it is cold and wet outdoors… a very deadly combination. The problems in starting a fire in the rain are multi-fold, as you not only have to worry about finding dry fuel, but also finding a dry place to build the fire which is shaded from the rain.
To start with, y ou need to prepare your fire pit. Actually, the last thing y ou want is a fire pit, as it will probably fill up with w ater. Instead, build a hearth out of rocks, so that you can keep the fire up off the ground. You need to put this hearth someplace where the fire will be pr otected from direct rainfall, such as under an overhanging tree (taking proper precaution to ensure that there are no branches close enough t o catch fire) under a spread out tarp (ditto on precautions) or under an overhanging rock (no problem with fire, but mak e sure it can’t fall on you).
In addition to rainfall, you may have wind to contend with. Starting a fire in the wind can be almost as hard as starting it in the rain. Protect your fire from the wind by erecting a lean-to, using a rock slab as a wind break or building a wall of logs or branches. The next problem is finding kindling and fuel. I’m going to assume that you listened to my advice in the last section of this book, and you have your tinder with you. If not, slap yourself on both wrists and look for a deadfall tree somewhere.
That same deadfall tree is your best source of kindling and fuel for your fire. While the top side is bound to be wet, the bottom side should be dry. You can break off bark, branches and cut the wood from the bottom side of the tree itself. Often, when a big tree falls, there will be a lot of good fire material on the bottom side of the deadfall. Be sure to check the ground under the deadfall as well, because anything laying there should be sheltered from the rain, as long as there isn’t water running across the ground.
A note on deadfalls: If you are in an area where there are deadfalls, make sure that your campsite is well a way from them. It may take more time to gather and transport your fire supplies, but you do not want to be anywhere near that area if a storm or strong winds happen to hit… They don’t call deadfalls “widowmakers” for nothing.
Even though you may find “dry” kindling and fuel, there’s a pretty good chance that it will be at least somewhat damp. This is the time for one of the black powder tinder balls that I talked about in the last section. If you don’t have one of those, then your best bet is one of the cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly. Those won’t burn as hot, but they will burn long enough to get something going.
Also, you can pick up damp tinder along the way and store it in your pockets (keeping it separated from dry tinder of course). Your movement and body heat will help to dry out the tinder even more.