Last Updated: November 11, 2018
Torch-building with natural materials is a high-risk activity that requires the constant and attentive supervision of an adult experienced in fire-lighting, fire-management and extinguishing fires.
The following guidelines were developed to help reduce the risks of people setting fire to themselves, their clothing or the environment. The reader must use their own good judgement in accessing and applying these guidelines to their own situation.
Check the current fire regulations and fire bans:
- in some areas there are special regulations for torches
Be ready and prepared to extinguish a potential fire:
- have a fire extinguisher, fire-blanket and bucket of water handy
- know the phone number of the fire department
- even if the conditions seem wet, always do a complete hazard check
Choose an appropriate location to light the torch:
- whenever possible a sandy beach, gravel or concrete surface is preferred
- check the area around the torch for potential fire hazards (2 metres in every direction)
- look above the torch- could anything fall onto the torch?
- think about what might be hidden underground or under the snow
- are there pine needles or roots that could catch fire?
- check for gas or propane hazards
- could someone bump or walk by into the torch accidentally?
Choose a good time to light a torch:
- never light a torch in windy or gusty conditions
- never leave a flaming torch unattended (no phone calls, no bathroom breaks…)
- watch the torch attentively if you are the person responsible
Anchor the torch properly in the ground or large bucket so it can’t fall or get knocked over.
As a general rule, at least 20% of the torch handle should be underground:
If the ground is frozen and a mineral terrain cannot be found- plan to contain the dripping or dropping materials in a non-flammable container such as a metal bucket full of sand or rocks.
Make sure the head of the torch is centered in the middle of the bucket in case it burns irregularly and falls off. Choose a larger bucket for large torch-heads like mullein or choose a smaller mullein for your smaller bucket.
Lighting a Torch Is Like Lighting A Fire:
- wear clothing that isn’t flammable (wool is great)
- use an appropriate fire-lighting tool (suitable for the experience-level of the fire-lighter)
Moving A Lighted Torch
Moving a lighted torch (especially one made from natural materials) around is a recipe for burning yourself or lighting fire to something. In my Girl Guides group, one of the girls set fire to another girl’s hair in a torch-moving accident that never should have happened. Luckily, nobody was burned- but hair-loss was bad enough.
Always move the torch to a safe location, and then light it.
In an emergency, you might need to use a lit torch to read a map or examine an important treasure. Whenever possible, keep the lit torch fixed and bring the object under consideration to the torch.
In some life-threatening situations, a torch might be used to signal for help, provide protection from an unwanted encounter with a wild animal or used to assess a drop (thrown off a cliff or down through a chasm). In these exceptional circumstances, make sure to hold the torch away from you at an angle so it doesn’t drip burning hot pitch or fat on your hands, arms or clothing.
Never wave a torch around for fun or amusement.
Moving Around While Holding A Torch
Moving around while holding a torch is incredibly dangerous.
You cannot possibly think about where you are going and watch the torch simultaneously- so the probability of personal injury and setting fire to one’s surroundings is very high– practically reckless.
Certain life-threatening situations can arise where the risks of walking with a torch outweigh the contrary. For example, if one must walk with a torch to light a series of signal fire(s) or to see the inside of a cave (to make sure it is uninhabited). When travelling with a lighted torch- stop and access the path frequently before proceeding- consciously change your focus between the path and the torch frequently.