We Didn’t Start the Fire

Ever since man figured out how to smash two rocks together, we have been obligated to attend the social gathering we call a bonfire. Some gatherings between friends are fun because you are familiar with each other, so the intimate setting is appropriate and warranted. However, sometimes your cousin’s wife’s great aunt’s friend’s great-niece is doing a bonfire, and she needs a date, so you are stuck attending the awkward affair.

Whether you and a group of buddies decided to get together, or you are appeasing your Great Aunt Gertrude, here is a list of things that you will be sorry you forgot at home:


WOOD: Wood is essential to any bonfire. You have a few options:

  1. CHOP YOUR OWN FIREWOOD If you are fortunate enough to be able to do this, it’s a pretty cool experience! It's hard, but really rewarding when you are sitting around a fire, burning the wood that you worked so hard on.
  2. PICK UP WOOD AT YOUR LOCAL GROCERY STORE Practically every grocery store that I have ever been to sells firewood.
  3. PALLETS Depending on where you live, a good way to get the wood for pretty cheap (free) is by dropping by Home Depot and picking up the pallets in the back. They go through so many, so they usually don’t mind if you take them, just be sure to ask first.
    • Be warned: in some areas pallets are not permitted because they do not fit in the pits, and they have nails. An easy way to work around that is to break them up before you embark on your adventure, and make sure that you remove the nails. You need to be picky with your pallets because some are treated with methyl bromide or other chemicals that you do not want to be breathing. So, when hunting for pallets, look for stamps; this is what they mean:
      • IPPC: These pallets are usually safe to use. IPPC stands for International Plant Protection Convention. These pallets are shipped internationally, and are treated in facilities approved by the IPPC. If this stamp is not on it, do not use it. The stamp means that the treatment is probably safe to burn (or to repurpose).
      • HT: Heat treatment- these are good to use. Heat treatment is when the wood is treated by using heat to eliminate moisture.
      • MB: Methyl bromide- DO NOT USE THESE. Methyl bromide is known to cause health problems. This is a treatment approved by the IPPC, so even if the IPPC stamp is on it, but it also has the MB stamp, do not take these pallets. For anything. Ever.
      • DB: de barked- This just means that the IPPC approved the way in which the wood was debarked, and it will not be on most pallets, it’s just good to know about.
      • KD: Kiln dried- This is safe to use. KD is a less intense version of heat treatment. Often if the wood was kiln dried, it will undergo heat treatment as well, so you might see the following stamp on the wood: KD-HT
      • For more detailed explanations and pictures, visit THIS SITE.
    • Also, beware of painted pallets. If the pallet is painted, it just indicates the pallet was probably used by a specific shipping company, but they have been known to carry traces of formaldehyde. As a good rule of thumb, steer clear of using any painted pallets.

LONG-NECKED LIGHTER: Something like this from Amazon will let you reach into the kindling without having to set it on fire, then shoving it under your wood formation.

KINDLING: Again, you have a few options:

  1. OLD HOMEWORK (if you are a real adult: old bills, maybe some napkins) Do you pay your bills online? Do you get them in the mail anyway? Woohoo! You have a monthly subscription to bonfire kindling! This is the most fail-proof kindling out of the list. The paper is guaranteed to be dry, and if your phone bill is 10 pages long, you have a pretty good chance of getting that fire started.
  2. DORITOS I’ve heard that these make great kindling, but I have yet to try them myself. You should probably bank on one of the other options first. If the Doritos end up being a bust, at least make sure you have a good flavor so that you can toss them in the treat pile!
  3. STICKS YOU FIND ON THE GROUND These can be a gamble, especially if you live somewhere (or are camping somewhere) where it rains a lot. The sticks might be wet, and if they are, you should probably have a backup plan.

A FLASHLIGHT: You don’t don’t reap the benefits of light from the fire until you start the fire; you can’t start the fire unless you can see the supplies… It’s a good idea to bring a flashlight to compensate until you get the fire started.

  1. One of my favorite flashlights is this one.
  2. If you want something a little bit smaller, here is a mini 2 cell version.
  3. If you have a phone with a flashlight, those work as well.

A SPEAKER: Music helps with the ambiance of the bonfire. Mason and I love this speaker. It’s great because it is waterproof, so you don’t need to worry about rain or the speaker falling in a river. We keep ours in the shower when we aren’t out and about.

S’MORES! This is the best combination that I have found thus far:

  1. Marshmallows
  2. Fudge Stripe cookies (they taste great and are cost effective. They also eliminate the difficult moment where you are struggling to keep the chocolate on the Graham Cracker, while attempting to successfully remove the marshmallow from your roasting stick).
  3. (optional) Reese's Peanut Butter Cups


LIGHTER FLUID: When nothing else is working, this will help you get a kick-start on your fire. This stuff is highly flammable. Be sure to keep the can away from the fire, and that you are done pouring the fluid over the wood before you use the lighter; the flame can travel back into the can, causing an explosion.

ROASTING STICKS: (or a machete depending on how hard you are willing to work to get those marshmallows roasted). Roasting sticks are pretty inexpensive, and they will last a long time if you are nice to them. Here are the sticks that Mason and I got at our wedding.

HAMMOCK: We love our doublenest ENOs! The double nests are preferable when you are lounging around the fire because they hold more weight, meaning you can have more than one person in the hammock.


If all else fails and you can't get the fire started, keep the mood light and play this song:

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