How To Build A Bonfire
(that lights with one match)
Article & Photos By Crede Calhoun

Chief Guide for Camp Earth and Owner of Windrush Online Art Gallery

Every week in the summer Camp Earth presents a bonfire program called 'Sacred Fire ~ Sacred Drum', at the Deep Creek Lake State Park amphitheater. Our season is done for this year and we'd like to thank the many families and folks that came out this year to see the show.

The fire was sacred to man in days long ago. There was no internet, TV, books, or other forms of easy entertainment. At night when it got dark, man turned to the fire for warmth, comfort and the friendship of storytelling. The elders would tell the story of their lives, the lives of the ancestors, and the myths surrounding their relationship with nature. Old and young would gather around the fire in a circle of fellowship and togetherness. Even today the fire can have a special attraction that draws us in. Maybe fire stirs ancient memories in our hearts of days long ago or may be it is just the magic of the all consuming flames. I think about everyone is mesmerized by the fires special magic and the intense radiance of its depths.

In honor of fires historic place in the history of man, we always build what we call a 'natural fire' at the Sacred Fire Sacred Drum Bonfires. First we need to understand the materials used to build a 'natural fire'. By 'natural' I mean no paper or other manmade things can be used to get the fire burning. Of course we use matches for the first light, but no paper, chemical fire starters, or flammable fluids are ever used to help start or burn faster. A 'natural fire' is built using only natural materials like sticks and logs.

Many times I have been asked how I built the fire. The technique is fairly simple it just takes a little bit of care in the collection of the wood and kindling and it takes some care in the building of the fire. The fire we are building in this article is one that is completely built before it is lit, as opposed to a fire that is started and lit, and wood is added to it to increase its size.

Some Fire Terminology

Any readily combustible material used to start a fire. Small twigs that will light easily by a match. Sometimes birch bark, pine needles, or a dried old birds nest might also be used as tinder.

Larger sticks than tinder. Pencil thickness to about anything you can break over your knee. This is the next size of firewood you add to the tinder.

This is split logs or logs. This is firewood as we know it. Hickory, oak, and other hardwoods make the best fuel.

The first step is to create a good safe place to build and burn the fire. A fire circle of rocks always makes the best and safest area to build a fire. You may even want to dig a 6"-12" pit for the fire if the fire circle will be a permanent addition to your backyard or lakefront property. Start by placing to logs as shown.

Collect a 'tinder bundle'. A good handful of 8"-10"dry twigs that snap crisply.

Place the bundle. Be sure to keep the bundle tight. Notice the slightly larger sticks on the top of the bundle. Collect these first starting with a little larger twig and getting smaller as you collect. This way when you place the bundle the smallest twigs will be the ones you light and the little bigger twigs will catch next.

Place the bundle carefully between the logs leaning up at an angle against one of the logs.

Lay good, dry, small, kindling sticks on both sides of the bundle. However, keep an open space on one side (as shown) so you can reach in to light the bottom of the bundle.

Lay two more good sized logs across the first two base logs as shown. Fill the gap between the logs with lots of medium sized kindling.

Place more kindling the other way

Top the kindling with some nice short chunks of log. These chinks will provide the heart of the fire and help it really get going hot.

Lay kindling up against your base.

Lean large logs against each other. Try to have the first couple of logs make a nice tripod against each other. Cut these logs about 36" to 40" long, a 4-6" diameter log section works great. Notice the little space where we will be able to reach in and light the tinder bundle down underneath base.

Lean more logs (about 12-14) around the base. Leave a door to get in to light the fire.

Light the tinder bundle and close up the door to the tinder bundle.

Wait about 5 minutes and......


Always keep a bucket of water nearby a big fire and be sure to cut long marshmallow sticks. Find and learn some stories to tell and have fun. I think you'll find that sitting and talking around a fire with family and friends lots of fun. Imagine, having fun without electricity or television, just like your ancestors.

Some pictures from the Camp Earth Bonfires.

Some Starwood bonfire photos.