Why is fire so important for community building?

, 10 June 2024
Why is fire so important for community building?
Fire and community © Amy King

Sophie Atkinson

Youth Action Officer

A colleague asked me the other day why I had invested time and money in fire and cooking equipment for my new role as Youth Action Officer, as they were curious as to how this activity fits in with conservation. It’s a good question, one with multiple answers.

Having a fire circle on site where you’re working with a group establishes a base for everyone. It is clear to everybody that this is a place they can return to if they need a break, if they need to warm up, or if they’d like to socialise with their peers. This can be very important for children and young people who need to feel comfortable in the space. We start and finish the day at the fire circle.

Mastering kelly kettles © Miles Davies
Mastering kelly kettles © Miles Davies

The creation of the fire is also important for teaching practical skills, imparting knowledge about the natural environment, and building confidence. Our groups learn the difference between greenwood and deadwood, and how to identify standing deadwood. We explain why to avoid decaying wood – this creates important habitat for fungi and invertebrates. They learn why certain deadwood burns faster than others, for example, Birch burns quickly as its bark contains oil. This can lead to further questions and opportunities for learning, why does the Birch tree contain oil? How could we use this information to our advantage when fire-building? Do we need to ensure we pair it with slow burning wood to make sure the fire doesn’t burn out? As with all of our work, we ensure there is an understanding surrounding sustainability, we create a fire for a purpose and don’t overuse resources.

Children also learn about fire safety – keeping their distance from the fire, being mindful where to have it, to avoid having a fire on a very dry day, and getting to share the experience of extinguishing it carefully and fully with water when the day/event is done.

Our groups learn to use bow saws, axes, and loppers, and work as a team. They get to enjoy the fruits of their labour when they eat a warm meal cooked over the fire they built, and that sense of achievement may encourage them to come back again and continue taking action for nature.

Fire is exciting, inviting, and a symbol of the great outdoors. It has long been a favourite activity for all ages, so we say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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