Fire Log #8: Making A Legal Fire In A State Forest

If you are going to areas of New York State Land where most people go, you are typically not allowed to make a fire unless it is an emergency. But in the areas of State Land where most people don’t go (which is most of it), you are typically allowed to start campfires as long as you follow the rules. They try to discourage it and they try to point to other options, but as the rules stand now, you can do it.

As with most things in life, there is a catch. As I understand the rules, you only have two choices to get wood for your fire. You either bring it in with you (something that is governed by some stringent rules on where you can get the firewood and how you need to document that you got the firewood correctly) or you have to use dead fire wood found on the forest floor. If I understand the rules correctly, even breaking off dead branches from a tree is not allowed. Needless to say, this time of year and with the weather that we have been having, making a fire under those kinds of constraints can be challenging. For this fire log, I decided to see how challenging it would be.

Conditions: There was an over two mile hike to the location involved so there was a lot of time involved just getting there and back so conditions varied. Based on the few times I checked the temp was generally right around freezing. During the hike the wind was pretty strong from the southwest but at the site where I built the fire it was either sheltered by the trees or the wind had stopped. The sky was clear and sunny making if feel warmer then it was unless you where shaded by thick evergreens. Snow was scattered over the landscape and it had rained before it turned to snow so everything that was not frozen was mud. The below picture gives you an idea of what the ground was like.

Test: Make a fire following the rules laid out in the New York State DEC videos below. (More or less a success)

This one does not lay out anything challenging.

But this is the one that makes it difficult.

I am not sure where they get the distant rule as I can’t find it in writing. I am going to guess that it only applies to established camp sites because it does not make any sense if you are camping off trail with no designated camp site (which you are allowed to do in most state forests as long as you are 150’ off trail). But the down and dead can clearly be seen in the written rules and that is the one that makes it a trick in conditions that are common this time of year.

Equipment: Mora Companion, Silky Pocketboy, BIC lighter, petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls.

Equipment Digression: I knew that given the conditions and the rules I was going to have to do some kind of batoning and making feather sticks to get a fire started. So I made sure to bring a fixed blade knife and the small saw. Otherwise I just brought my standard fire kit (which had more stuff then I used but no matches). For those who are not familiar with the concept, the below video shows the making of feather sticks.

Narrative for the Test:

The biggest challenge was time. I had intended to give myself plenty of time but I got sidetracked by a couple of issues at home and then when I got to the woods I got sidetracked following a trail to see where it went. I had only been in this particular state forest once before and then the section I had been in had been highly overgrown and hard to see anything. This was my first time in this particular section of forest and I could not help exploring a little bit.

By the time I reached the end of the trail I was exploring, I realized that it was already close to the time I had meant to be home, much less starting the fire. So when I headed off trail to find a flat open space far from any trail or road I was under a severe time crunch.

When I found a good spot, it took longer then I expected to clear a 10’ diameter because of the nature of the ground and the fact that things were frozen to the ground and did not want to move. By the time I got around to starting the fire, it was almost time for me to be home and I still had a two mile hike back.

The sole purpose of that digression is to offer up an excuse for why my fire starting was so poor. I batoned one wrist sized piece of wood into quarters to get at the dryer wood but I only made a half hearted attempt to create some feathers on two of the sticks. Even worse, I left this batoned wood too long so much of the my effort to get at the dryer wood was wasted because most of it was sticking outside the fire area. In terms of other kindling, I only got some finger sized stuff off the ground. I really should have traveled further to get some finer stuff or else batoned more.

I knew that my fire prep was woefully inadequate, but I was in a hurry and cotton balls had never let me down before. And my faith in that sort of tinder was sort of justified. One cotton ball was not enough to dry things out enough to keep things going so I had to add a second one as it was dying out. And it took a lot of blowing and otherwise coaxing to get thing to where I was confident they were sustainable with crappy wood I had. But I did get a fire going as you can see from the below picture…..

Putting the fire out per regulations was not hard as I had water with me and it was not that big of a fire.

Time: 30 minutes (and that does not count the time it took to find the space or clear most of the duff).

Lessons Learned:
1. I think it would have be less time to get the fire to a sustainable state if I had done more prep. This was one of those cases were rushing took longer overall then taking a little more time would have.
2. Feather sticking is certainly one of those things that looks easier when other people do it. If I had taken more time, it would have worked better even with my lack of skill. But it certainly is not super easy to make a good feather stick if you have little practice.
3. Cotton balls do have their limits but if you use more than one they can power through some pretty awful stuff to get a fire going.

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