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Signal Fires: Don't Set the Whole Place Ablaze

Grassland wildfire

[jerry2313] / [iStock] / Thinkstock

Say you’re hiking some remote island by yourself. You fall and break your foot and toil through the island’s foliage in misery for three days. No one knows you’re there and no one’s coming to rescue you, so what choice do you have? A signal fire. A big one. An enormous signal fire because you need to get the hell out of there. That’s exactly what happened to a lone hiker on Norway’s isolated island, Hillesoy. The only problem is he set the whole damn mountainside ablaze. First the fire engulfed his tent, and then it spread throughout the forest.

Still, it worked. Authorities rescued the hiker and transported him to a nearby hospital. And though it took two army helicopters and 20 firefighters to finally extinguish the flames, saving the island’s 800 inhabitants from death by fire, the hiker will not face any charges. This is why Norway is cool. They recognize when someone in dire straights just accidently screws up. It wasn’t arson; it was a call for help that got out of control.

This could have all been avoided, of course. According to the instructions for setting signal fires from the One Stop Survival Guide (OSSG), this hiker ignored the first rule: “Make the fire in a clearing so it doesn’t set surrounding trees on fire.” The next steps, as suggested by OSSG, are more or less as follows:

  • Make an enormous tripod – taller than you – with 3 branches.
  • Tie them together at the top with whatever you can find to use as a rope: thinner branches, wire, whatever.
  • Make a horizontal platform using 3 shorter sticks tied to the tripod branches 1/3 up from the bottom
  • Lay sticks across these to finish platform.
  • Use dry grass, tiny twigs, bark, etc. to build a fire on the platform.
  • Have some dry grass, etc. hanging below the platform for you to light easily when you hear Search & Rescue.
  • When your fire is built, hang green leafy branches from the top of the tripod to create big bellows of smoke.
  • Light that thing; let it burn hot; and keep it fueled with both dry sticks and replenished with wetter, leafy branches to keep it smoking.

Pulling off a slick maneuver like a signal fire without ruining half of an island gets you major outdoor points. Instead of ending up like the Norway hiker, you could be like 67-year-old, John Wilson, and 21-year-old, Evan Boccardi, who were rescued without incident in Palm Springs last week, thanks to their controlled yet effective signal fire. Keep this one in mind, folks. Don’t die out there. And don’t set the whole place ablaze.

By Bryan Schatz


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