Even in the dead of winter, parkgoers were able to ignite their interest by learning the basics of outdoor skills in a fun and educational fire building event sponsored by NYC Parks on Sunday, February 5th, behind the Salt Marsh Nature Center at Avenue U and East 33rd Street.
Urban Park Rangers Ian Evans and Gabby Miranda-Diaz had everything prepared in the courtyard, where excited parents and their children gathered around a fire pit with anticipation of building their first fire. There was a pile of wood and other fire-starting materials nearby, along with metal structures and trays for individual practice.
Every group was given a Firestarter, which is a magnesium flint with a steel blade. When struck together, it creates a spark to light the fire.
“Does anyone know what tinder is?” asked Miranda-Diaz. “No, not the app!” Evans added, which got everyone laughing. They showed everyone the different kinds of tinder that could be used to start a fire from things found nearby. At the salt marsh, there is an abundant source of dry, natural materials available for starting a fire such as dead pine needles; pinecones, which have very flammable resin; phragmites, an invasive species of marsh grass that grows about 12 feet tall and have feathery looking seed heads; wood chips; and twigs.
They demonstrated how to ignite the tinder with the firestarters and build a teepee-shaped structure of small pieces of wood over it, allowing oxygen to circulate, which helped the fire to grow. Another structure for larger fires is called a log cabin, which is a square-shaped structure of intersecting pieces of wood placed around the fire.
The children were especially excited about trying it out. As sparks flew from the firestarter and ignited the tinder pile, everyone yelled out, “Yay!” They learned that more wood had to be constantly added, going from smaller to bigger pieces, continuing the teepee structure or it would go out very quickly.
Other instructions included fire safety tips and the steps to building a fire using a bow drill, which consists of a board; a spindle, which is pencil-shaped and has a sharp end on one side and a rounded end on the other, spindle or drill board; socket or handhold to hold the spindle in place on the drill board; string; and a bow. The rangers used the twisted bowstring to rotate the spindle in the hole, causing dust to gather in the notch, which eventually forms a coal that can be transferred to a tinder bundle and get blown into flames.
A former Boy Scout leader demonstrated how to use a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays as another way to start a fire. Although the sun wasn’t strong enough to create the necessary heat for it to work, a good time was had by all while learning valuable survival skills.