The criss-cross fire lay is a very important and flexible fire. It is quick to ignite, it provides a lot of heat, a decent amount of light and a good ember base for cooking. It can be built in advance almost in entirety before it is lit and the way the sticks are placed allows for high air flow and therefore it ‘takes’ very quickly: making it an ideal pre-prepared emergency signal fire.
The principles of the fire are simple. Place two retaining logs either side to create a chamber for the tinder and fine kindling. This can be placed on a raised bed of sticks to keep it off the damp woodland floor and also improve airflow. Next arrange a small row of sticks over it, then at 90 degrees arrange another, possible slightly bigger sticks…and so on. When the fire is lit the fire climbs quickly through the small sticks which in turn light the larger ones. When the fire really takes hold then as it collapses it ‘self-feeds itself more fuel from above.
Of course you do not have to build it in advance but create a small fire then lay sticks cross-cross over the fire to build it up. The resulting embers provide one of the best cooking fires or can be raked out to convert to a long log fire for the night.
If you use this fire as the basis of an emergency signal fire then construct the fire, possible even with an addition of a small pit underneath to further increase air-flow and ensure ultra-quick ignition. Leave a decent chamber for the tinder to be placed. Don’t worry about increasing the size of your sticks too much in the criss-cross layers above – you want the sticks to all catch quickly – so smaller ones may do that better than big logs. Over the pre-prepared fire-lay rig up a greenwood tripod and lash a simple mezzanine frame just above the top layer of the fuel. On this loose, airy platform place plenty of green leaves and herbage. This gives you the option to make it a smoke signal fire (green leaves create lots of smoke) AND keep the fuel dry underneath for when you want to light it.