Chemical/ Mechanical Starts and Special Effects
- Check all fire ban notices for your area. Have water for putting out hot-spots. When leaving your camp, make sure your fire pit is cold to the touch.
- SAFETY FIRST Fires are dangerous – chemicals in fires are even more dangerous – BE CAREFUL
- If you must use corrosive, poisonous, or inflammatory material, always mix and use chemicals outdoors,
- Follow instructions to the letter. Do not experiment, mixing chemicals can be dangerous.
- Never throw a lighted match into a mixture to ignite it,
- Avoid large quantities – more is NOT better.
- ALWAYS PRACTICE FIRST Try out any campfire effects before the actual campfire event.
LESS IS BEST Use ONLY the minimum amount needed to achieve the effect you are looking for.
When you practice your effects, check reaction times between activation and ignition; especially if you are planning a story or activity to coincide with ignition. The ambient temperature will affect the times. Usually warmer weather will result in a faster reaction. Also, there are often noises or smoke that will indicate when the chemical is activated.
Always have a “Plan B” ready if “Plan A” fails – because it will, sooner or later.
SAFE(er) and EASY – you can share these ones with younger Guides, but beware of developing pyromania in impressionable girls.
SALT – NaCl a sprinkle of salt on embers will give a small yellow spark and crackle sound. This effect will be overwhelmed in flames.
SUGAR – C12H22O11 A small handful of sugar tossed onto the embers will provide flashing sparks and quick flares.
IRON SHAVINGS – Fe If you put iron shavings into a fire they will burn with a “sparkle”, same effect is available with commercial sparklers, as they contain metal powder; just twist the wires to crumble off the ‘sparkle.’ These will be visible at any stage of the fire.
TEA LEAVES sprinkled on embers give a nice effect – too many will result in flames and the effect will be lost.
MAGAZINES – strong ink colours in magazines are made of many chemicals that will give coloured effects. Roll the page tightly and add to the embers so the colours are easily seen.
CHEMICALS (make sure your fire is well set – has a bed of coals – before using as the fire has to have the high temperature to get the effect your looking for. A big fire is not the kind of hot fire you’re looking for. A small campfire with a good bed of coals is what you desire.
In general, different chemicals will give a flame a different color. Table salt (NaCl, or sodium chloride) will give a flame a yellow colour, for example, from the sodium.
Note: SOME campfire effects below ARE UNTRIED…. I haven’t gotten around to trying all of these yet, many are components of fireworks, but may need admixtures to give a good effect. If you try them, please let me know how they go.
COLOURED FLAMES and Campfire – FX (also see chemical starts below)
Yellow potassium nitrate (salt petre), sodium chloride (table salt)
Orange calcium chloride (“Road Salt”), Calcium Carbonate CaCO3 for a Reddish Orange – can be found in antacid, also the main component of seashells and agricultural lime. Chalk used to be made of calcium carbonate, but is now often made of gypsum (dihydrate of Calcium Sulfate which is also found as a hemihydrate in Plaster of Paris – may be worth a try if you have some at home to experiment with)
Red strontium nitrate – This one is awesome but a shot lived effect
Purple lithium chloride – so so
Blue Magnesium Sulphate – nice but short effect
Green borax, barium nitrate, copper sulphate, (copper pipe included in the construction of the fire will also give longer lasting green flames)
White Magnesium filings/ powder – very bright and quite long lasting, also makes lots of smoke – this is the stuff used as a base in flares, can also be used with other chemicals for longer lasting colours
Copper Sulphate – Blue
Copper Chloride – Green and Purple – Do Not Touch or breath this stuff unless you want a very sore stomach. Keep away from children. Keep away from water as it is a marine pollutant!!!!! – totally awesome long lasting fire effect.
Silver powdered aluminium
Gold iron filings
Red equal parts by weight of strontium nitrate and powdered magnesium
Green equal parts by weight of potassium nitrate and boric acid, powdered sulphur, powdered
SMOKE – Black gunpowder (I don’t recommend this one)
Delivering these chemicals can be done be laying them when the fire is made, or delivering them during the campfire by pre-making “shots” that can be flipped into the fire. A “shot” is made by creating a tightly rolled ball of paper, dipped in wood glue and the roll in a tray of the chosen
chemical. The chemical will coat the outside of the ball and react when thrown into the fire. Store these “shots” in an egg carton until needed – one “shot” per egg carton section.
Steel Wool and “D” cell batteries are frequently used in survival techniques as an emergency method of starting a fire. Based on this principal, one camp fire start idea is to use steel wool in the fire lay (surrounded by small dry kindling) remotely attached to a car battery. The battery could be disguised by hiding in a box that would double as a seat for the Campfire Leader, with a switch on the side of the box to complete the electrical circuit and start off your fire.
The “Flaming Arrow” is a traditional favourite of Scouts. Drive a stake a little beyond the heart of the fire lay, as it is being laid. From this stake run a length of nylon fishing line up to a nearby high point and tie securely so that the line is very taut. The angle should be sufficient to ensure a smooth and
fairly rapid decent of the ‘arrow’ otherwise you run the risk of the flame burning through the fishing line before the arrow reaches the fire. The arrow should be attached on two spools, and have the kindling/ wadding securely attached. You need an assistant to light and release the arrow.
Starts with water – Crush 1 teaspoon of iodine crystals to a very fine powder (Note: The powdered iodine “evaporates” very quickly. This mixture must be used within about 10 minutes of preparation.)
Then mix with 2 teaspoons of powdered aluminium. IT IS CRITICAL THAT THIS MIXTURE REMAINS ABSOLUTELY DRY.
Place this mixture in the fire lay on a piece of plywood, forming a volcano shaped mound. When the participants are gathered around the campfire, ask if anyone has a canteen of water in case the
fire gets ‘out of hand’ (you may want to set this up beforehand).
Pat your pockets as if looking for a match, but finding none, ask to borrow some water. Sprinkle it on the fire lay (ensure a few drops hit the iodine/aluminium mixture) and you will be greeted by billowing purple smoke, followed by deep red flames.
A teaspoon of Pinesol or Pine Oil is placed in a shallow container within the fire lay. The story used to introduce this magic fire start is based on the ashes from a previous campfire. The “Ashes” are a half a cup of HTH Granulated chlorine. When the two are combined, they produce a large quantity of white smoke, followed by flames. This is a relatively slow reaction. I have never used this one with Guides as the Chlorine smoke is TOXIC.
Roman Candles – BRIGHT white shower of sparks – one of the easiest to make and use and most readily available. All you need is sparklers from the store and a cardboard roll. Tape the bottom of the roll closed and take one sparkler out of the packet. Twist the remaining sparklers in the packet until all the chemical is cracked off. Pour the granules into the roll. Usually 15 sparklers in the roll is sufficient for a spectacular candle. The remaining whole sparkler is used as the fuse. Insert the sparkler into the roll, making sure the granules come into contact with the chemical on the wire (try it upside down). The candles can be used beside the fire for effect, or used in the fire where the sparks will fall on the tinder to start the fire.
NEW: pour the granules into a skinny aluminum can with the top cut off instead of the cardboard roll. The can burns away and the effect is heightened by the bright white burn of the aluminum.
Conte’s Crystals and Glycerine – A small mound of Potassium Permanganate (two tablespoons) on a foil tart tray is hidden in the fire, surrounded by punk, but where the effect will be visible. The glycerine can either be dripped onto the tray (when adding ‘ashes’), or set up in the fire lay in a container with a string attached, or any other method so the leader can start the reaction remotely. Too much glycerine will smother the reaction. Experiment with this one to determine quantities and time. The reaction usually takes 20 – 30 seconds, depending on the weather. Cooler temperatures slow the reaction.