Monday, February 22, 2010

Fire Building Contest Re-Visited: Boiling Water (Part 1)

In an earlier blog entry someone suggested that I have a fire building contest where the Scouts must boil a pot of water to win. During January our contest which concluded Firem n' Chit (fire building & fire safety) training, the kids had to team up and burn a piece of twine stretched about 18" high to win. That contest was a great success so I couldn't resist doing it again with the boiling water which was this morning.

For preparation I decided that I would extend the learning experience one step further and teach them how to make their own "hobo" campfire pots. First I had to develop the idea so I came up with a nifty handmade pot using one quart metal orange juice cans that were discarded from breakfast. These turned out just great but I'll explain in detail how we made them in part 2 of this post in a day or two because that's another story worth carrying it's own weight.

As usual I started this class by first having a brief review of fire building and fire safety that we covered during the first couple of classes. In an effort to instill their confidence I then had them gather sticks and tinder then I used these wet materials to start a demonstration fire. The kids are in our residential program for about one year and upon graduation they should be campfire experts and days like today which are cold, wet, and snowy present an additional challenge that will hone their skills to a "T".

Yes, today would be the ultimate challenge and after raining all night long my own spirits for success was dampened a bit but the kids love building a fire so I wasn't down for long. For some reason a campfire can captivate their complete attention and focus in a kid like no other activity can accomplish. All hands are busy and the contest was on!

Gosh, the wood they gathered was so wet but they had learned how to "snap" a branch to determine if it was dry inside. I had also showed them how to scrape off the outer bark which held most of the moisture like a sponge so they proceeded with confidence. Some of the kids would occasionally rub the twigs across their cheeks or lips where the skin is most sensitive and an excellent way to detect any moisture in the wood. They had listened and I was proud of their confidence and skill.
They had placed their tender just right inside the starter wood in such a way that the fire could "breathe" then so patiently pampered it by adding more fuel wood, but not too fast. In addition the teams also had to figure out a way to hold their pot of water over the fire and some pretty inventive methods were devised. They were brilliant and even on this wet and cold snowy day their fires began blazing one by one until the first pot of water reached 220 degrees Fahrenheit and we had a winner. 
Even though we had a winner there wasn't a single whining voice from anyone. The winning team let out a cheer of victory but all the other boys continued working on their fires until every team had boiling water. I was amazed at their determination and no one left until every pot had boiling water. A healthy dose of competition provided the motivation but when you see every losing team continue until they had boiling water made my day. Yes, they now have a new well-honed wilderness skill but even more gratifying to me as a teacher was the success seen through patience, team work, and technique.These kids have great potential.


  1. dude is that the wats. ay i wrote yall it should get there tomarrow.

  2. Ah I'm so sad I didn't get to be a scout when I was a kid. They did such great things like this. and it's funny how simple and useful that a skill like building a fire is. It's hard to believe some people don't know how to do it very well.

  3. Yes Jack, that is the Wataugas' and I sure do miss carving with you during siesta.

    Ethan: Yes, it is amazing how many people manage to ramble their way through life with hardly no fire building skills. The good new is that the kids in my Scout classes are not in that category. Just changing the world, one kid at a time.