Spitfire Woods

Arbor-vitae (northern ' white cedar") and chestnut burn to dead coals that do not communicate flame. They, as well as box elder, red cedar, hemlock, sassafras, tulip, balsam, tamarack, and spruce, make a great crackling and snapping in the fire. All of the soft pines, too, are prone to pop. Certain hardwoods, such as sugar maple, beech, white oak, and sometimes hickory, must be watched for a time after the fire is started, because the embers that they shoot out are long-lived, and hence more dangerous than those of softwoods; but they are splendid fuel, for all that.

Stubborn Woods

The following woods are very hard to split: Blue ash, box elder, buckeye, cherry, white elm, winged elm, sour gum, hemlock (generally), liquidambar (sweet gum), honey locust, sugar maple, sycamore, tupelo. Some woods, however, that are stubborn when seasoned are readily split when green, such as hickory, beech, dogwood, sugar maple, birch, and slippery elm.

The Best Fuel

Best of all northern firewoods is hickory, green or dry. It makes a hot fire, but lasts a long time, burning down to a bed of hard coals that keep up an even, generous heat for hours. Hickory, by the way, is distinctly an American tree; no other region on earth produces it. The live oak of the South is most excellent fuel, to is holly. Following the hickory, in fuel value, ire chestnut oak, overcup, white, blackjack, post and basket oaks, pecan, the hornbeams (ironwoods), and dogwood. The latter burns finally to a beautiful white ash that is characteristic; apple wood does the same. Black birch also ranks here; it has the advantage of " doing its own blowing," as a Carolina mountaineer said to me, meaning that the oil in the birch assists its combustion so that the wood needs no coaxing. All of the birches are good fuel, ranking in about this order: black, yellow, red, paper, and white. Sugar maple was the favorite fuel of our old-time hunters and surveyors, because it ignites easily, burns with a clear, steady flame, and leaves good coals.

Locust is a good, lasting fuel; it is easy to cut, and, when green, splits fairly well; the thick bark takes fire readily, and the wood then burns slowly, with little flame, leaving pretty good coals; hence it is good for night-wood. Mulberry has similar qualities. The scarlet and willow oaks are among the poorest of the hardwoods for fuel. Cherry makes only fair fuel. White elm is poor stuff, but slippery elm is better. Yellow pine burns well, as its sap is resinous instead of watery like that of the soft pines.

In some respects white ash is the best of green woods for campers' fuel. It is easily cut and split, is lighter to tote than most other hardwoods, and is of so dry a nature that even the green wood catches fire readily. It burns with clear flame, and lasts longer than any other free-burning wood of its weight. On a wager, I have built a bully fire from a green tree of white ash, one match, and no dry kindling whatever. I split some of the wood very fine and " frilled " a few of the little sticks with my knife.


Most of the softwoods are good only for kindling, or for quick cooking fires, and then only when seasoned. For these purposes, however, some of them are superior, as they split and shave readily and catch fire easily.

Liquidambar, magnolia, tulip, catalpa, and willow are poor fuel. Seasoned chestnut and yellow porlar make a hot fire, but crackle and leave no coals. Balsam fir, basswood, and the white and loblolly pines make quick fires but are soon spent. The gray (Labrador) pine or jack pine is considered good fuel in the far North, where hardwoods are scarce. Seasoned tamarack is good. Spruce is poor fuel, although, being resinous, it kindles easily and makes a good blaze for " branding up " a fire. Pitch pine, which is the most inflammable of all woods when dry and " fat," will scarcely burn at all in a green state. Sycamore and buckeye, when thoroughly seasoned, are good fuel, but will not split. Alder burns readily and gives out considerable heat, but is not lasting.

The dry wrood of the northern poplar (large-toothed aspen) is a favorite for cooking fires, because it gives an intense heat, with little or no smoke, lasts well, and does not blacken the utensils. Red cedar has similar qualities, but is rather hard to ignite and must be fed fine at the start.

The best green softwoods for fuel are white birch, paper birch, soft maple, cottonwood, and quaking aspen.

As a rule, the timber growing along the margins of large streams is softwood. Hence driftwood is generally a poor mainstay, unless there is plenty of it on the spot; but driftwood on the sea-coast is good fuel.


I have already mentioned the necessity of clearing the camp ground of inflammable stuff before starting a fire on it, raking it toward a common center and burning all the dead leaves, pine needles, and trash; otherwise it may catch and spread beyond your control as soon as your back is turned. Don't build your fire against a big old punky log: it may smoulder a day or two after you have left, and then burst out into flame when a breeze fans it.

Never leave a spark of fire when breaking camp, or when leaving it for the day. Make absolutely sure of this, by drenching the camp-fire thoroughly, or by smothering it completely with earth or sand. Never drop a lighted match, a burning cigar stub, or the hot residue of your pipe, on the ground without stamping it out. Have you ever seen a forest fire? It is terrible. Thousands of acres are destroyed, and many a time men and women and children have been cut off by a tornado of flame and burned alive. The person whose carelessness starts such a holocaust is worse than a fool he is a criminal, and a disgrace to the good earth he treads.