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How to Start an Emergency Fire Using a Handgun

Copyright March 3, 2009 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All rights reserved and all rights protected under international copyright law.

For Fair Use and Educational Purposes Only.

Handgun and Bullets
  1. Select a safe place to build a fire that is out of the wind.

  2. Before you try to light a fire, begin by collecting a lot of very tiny thin dry twigs and sticks, and some small dry sticks, and some average size dry sticks. Put all of these twigs and sticks close to the location where you intend to build your future fire. Arrange the sticks into three different piles based on the size of the sticks. Dead tree branches caught in shrubs or bushes and that are off the ground are excellent fire starting material. Sticks and branches that have been lying on the ground may be used after the fire is burning well.

  3. Collect some high quality dry tinder. The pile of tinder should be about the size of your closed fist but very loosely arranged so lots of air can get into the stack. If possible, have at least two different types of tinder materials mixed together inside your initial tinder pile. Some examples of good dry tinder would be:
    • thin strips of paper, or
    • clothes dryer lint, or
    • very thin strips of old dry cloth with frayed edges,
    • thin bark shavings off a dry stick (the bark and wood shavings should be the size of a toothpick), or
    • very dry decayed wood that has been separated and fluffed up.
    Place your tinder material on the ground where you wish to build your fire.

  4. Carefully remove a bullet from one cartridge shell casing. You will not need the bullet so you may set the bullet aside.

  5. Pour the gunpowder from inside the casing onto one side of your small pile of very dry tinder.

  6. For safety reasons, wear leather gloves and be careful not to burn your hands by having your fingers too close to the gunpowder when it first catches fire.

  7. A tiny spark will ignite the gunpowder and start the tinder burning. A spark may be produced using any one of the following methods:
    • Strike a flint with a piece of steel.
    • Use a "Blast Match" to produce a spark.
    • Strike the edge of a "Magnesium Fire Starter" with the back edge of your hunting knife to produce a spark.
    • If you do not have anything that will produce a spark, then you can put the empty shell back into the handgun from which it came and fire the empty shell directly at the gunpowder. The primer sparks will fly out the end of the gun barrel and ignite the gunpowder on your pile of tinder. This works best with a handgun that has a short barrel. The end of the gun barrel should be about two-inches from the gunpowder but this distance depends on the size (caliber) of your empty bullet shell.

  8. Be emotionally prepared for the gunpowder to instantly ignite in the same manner as the head of an ordinary match. The small amount of gunpowder will not explode because it is not trapped inside a small area inside a bullet shell casing. Instead the gunpowder will ignite and burn because it is surrounded by air. For example, if you have ever watched a movie where someone pours some gunpowder in a straight line across the ground and then puts a match to one end of the gunpowder fuse, then you have seen how gunpowder flares up and gradually burns from one end of the gunpowder fuse to the other end.

  9. Quickly add some tiny thin dry twigs and sticks to the small fire. The gunpowder will burn very fast and very hot so you need to have lots of very small sticks already on hand to add to the initial fire because your tinder will burn up very quickly.

  10. As the fire begins to increase in size gradually add slightly larger dry sticks. The size of the sticks should be proportional to the size of the fire. In the beginning when the fire is very small use very thin sticks. As the fire gradually gets a little bigger use slightly bigger sticks. When the fire gets to be a normal size then you may add normal size sticks. Do not smother the fire by adding sticks that are too large for the fire in its initial stages of development.

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