Upside-down Fire: Fire making for Dummies (like me!)

I have a very poor track record with fire. To be specific, I suck at building and starting fires. Perhaps I can blame my parents who detest camping (a running joke in my family was that our version of roughing it was the holiday inn), or perhaps I could blame my ineptitude on my pyromaniac friends who always took point when starting the campfire (Beta – looking at you buddy. Trevor – homemade napalm, really?). Whatever the case may be, I grew up with nary a fire to my name.

Imagine then, much to my chagrin, when I still failed to start a fire as a grown man. It was really humid and damp out, but then our camping neighbors gave us a firestarter, and STILL we couldn’t build a fire. Yikes. That was much harder for me and the LP (Life Partner) to explain away.

fire failure

This is what failure looks like. Even the dog is trying to hide after this failure.

That was why this past weekend, with night fast approaching, we faced our campsite fire-pit with great trepidation. Would we go toe-to-toe once more with Hephaestus and once more hang our heads in defeat? Smokey’s admonishments always made forest fires seem as if they stalked every stray spark or cigarette. We started to think the woods had been sprayed with fire retardent and we’d somehow missed the message.

Our first attempt failed. The wood pile was lackluster. Light was fading. Failure, like thick humidity, hung in the air. So, I suggested something I’d read about online once, something that seemed entirely counter-intuitive. What did we have to lose?

LP followed mydirections with her fair share of skepticism (Can you doubt her? The blind leading the deaf). Lo and behold, the upside down fire worked! We pinched ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. We started a fire!

Finally some fire

With our next two fires we followed the same framework and, like clockwork, they burned. The Upside-down fire is a true beauty. No tinkering necessary, no endless poking or feeding the flames. This is a set-it-and-forget-it sort of fire. Build the thing, light it, and then enjoy the Rube-Goldberg-esque chain reaction catch fire. Even better than low maintenance, this method is very, very efficient. The remnants of one layer build the base that fires the next. In the end, nothing is left.

Here’s how its built:

Upside-down fire

All ready to go

Start with your biggest logs. Stack them tightly together in one horizontal row. Next, build a second layer, this time rotating 90 degrees so that they stack perpendicular. To anyone who has played with lincoln logs or Jenga, this should be familiar territory. As you build vertically, gradually reduce in size. Every level up should be slightly smaller wood. Once you’ve stacked your final layer of fine twigs, top it with a nest of kindling. Admittedly in the fire pictured below, I cheated and dropped a small, homemade firestarter in the middle (Cotton dipped in Petrolium Jelly FTW). As a recent fire-making dropout, I have no qualms about using whatever modern advantage I had at my disposal. The days of friction fires and solar maelstroms are way down the road. For now, I’m comfortable working towards mastery of this beautiful fire method.

Below are my burn pics. Watch as this puppy burns down, layer by layer.