How to Build a Fire, without using your hands

By: Lauren Metelski, Girl Scout Leader Troop 879


Lauran Metelski

I recently learned how to build a fire without using my own hands. All you have to do is teach a Girl Scout and let her do the rest. Show her how to gather tinder, stack the twigs safely, and garner some heat. Then sit back, don’t take over, but remind her what is needed – heat, oxygen, fuel and hope.

Our troop’s spring camping trip was muddy, snowy, cold and damp. It was a perfect set-up for a messy and challenging trip. Our troop didn’t take the easy road. In fact, for the girls in my troop, obstacles and challenges camping are the greatest source of joy. Surviving gives them bragging rights as a testament of their toughness. They rely on one another and when they return to school they share a deep bond.

So on this spring camp-out, when we were getting hungry and the fire was yet to be made, I did what any Girl Scout leader does – I appointed a fire crew and told them they could do it.

They didn’t need my help.

“You build the fire,” I said.

The girls cleared the snow out of the pit then scooped water puddles and mud to the side. They found some only slightly damp logs and some paper I brought. It was lunchtime and some were hungry. And it was cold. The three Girl Scouts on fire crew knew the challenges they faced and they rose to the occasion. They communicated, shoveled gravel around the pit to make it safer and divided tasks. They made a platform for the fire, so it was elevated out of the mud. Then they lit match, after match, after match. And then, they rebuilt their twig tent and started over. After forty minutes with no success, doubt and frustrations arose. Some other Girl Scouts and parents worried a fire would never come. Conditions weren’t right and maybe we needed a plan B.

“They don’t need us to step in,” I said.

They needed to keep that hope alive.

With a starter log in my pocket and the cabin oven on pre-heat, us well-meaning parents bit our tongues so not interfere with the girls’ work. It was their fire and they needed to bask in the glory when they finally succeeded. We sat back, offered encouragement but didn’t step in.

“It’s important for the ones that started the fire to see it flame up. If anyone wants to help, ask how you can help her. But the girls who started it need to finish it.” I reminded the other girls.

As Girl Scouts, it’s only natural to jump in and help a fellow girl. But in some cases, it is equally important to support a girl by letting her discover how to succeed. Sometimes this takes trial and error. The role of a supportive observer is important in girl-led learning.

After an hour or more of trial and error, of problem solving and pointed focus, three 10-year old Girl Scouts built their very first fire all by themselves! It blazed gloriously. And I have never had a prouder moment!

The outdoors gives girls a chance to try, a chance to fail and a chance to succeed in a safe place with the support of other Girl Scouts and leaders who understand that girls can build fires!

Camping is one of the major focuses of Girl Scouts. Girls who camp develop an appreciation for the natural world around them and a proper respect for the safety measures that go into enjoying that world fully. The great outdoors provide an open place for girls to support one another, work as a team and lead. It allows them to be tough without time constraints or social structures that tell them they’re “too young” or “not strong enough.” And if you’re an adult volunteer, it allows you the amazing opportunity to watch a group of young women ban together and do something amazing! As troop leaders, just plant a notion, teach proper technique and safety, be a supportive observer and remind a girl scout of what is needed: heat, oxygen, fuel and little bit of hope. Then watch her shine.