The Pagoda fire technique
An overview of the technique, building method and advantages/disadvantages.
This fire has an average to high amount of woodconsumption. This type of fire is usually made to burn for a minimum of 30 minutes, maintenance free as it is burning on bigger logs. This fire technique needs very little maintenance when it is build right.
The name of this fire derives of the placement and shape of the wooden logs in the construction. A Pagoda is an architectural style finding it’s roots in buddhist temples in Asia. There it’s a tower with many floors. And every floor has it’s own roof. Most often every next floor is a little smaller than the one below. The construction of the pagoda fire is build similarly.
With this technique, wood can be added whilst the fire is burning, keeping the construction intact. This is perfect to up your burning-time while enjoying a campfire. The technique leaves a lot of space for oxygen to flow into the fire. This makes it possible to burn the wood efficiently and cleanly. Because the construction also serves as a chimney, it creates an upwards drag and hotter flames. This helps to combust gasses which would otherwise would have turned into smoke. So hot flames, much light and little smoke.
Build technique and methods to start the fire
A pagoda construction is build on the edge of- or on top of an already burning fire. It is used to lengthen the burn-time of the fire.
The choice of building around or on top of the already burning fire is made by the stability of the fire construction. Is it a stable construction than don’t hesitate to build the pagoda construction on top. Is there a risk that logs can roll off, or is the construction a mess, just start from the edges.
Take two medium-sized logs and place each on both sides of your fireplace. Push them towards the embers while turning them at the same time towards the embers (picture). This will prevent the fire to grow bigger and supports the heat from the embers to be transferred to the logs. The embers will stay inbetween the placed logs. To provide yourself with a stable base that will last longer, my advice would be to use slightly bigger logs out of dry hardwood for the two base-logs. Wet logs will smoulder and smoke and softwood will burn too fast and therefore get unstable.
Once both base-logs are placed in the right position or when the existing structure is stable enough, proceed by adding two new slightly smaller or same sized logs onto the base. It’s not advised to go higher as three layers for the pagoda fire will, most likely, get unstable. When doing so, each layer will add speed to the air which is drawn in. This creates a fast draft in the bottom-layers, this will make the bottom of the construction burn rapidly. The bottom will collapse and the aggressively burning tower will tumble down with the risk of starting a forest fire or harming you / your gear.
When the fire almost does burn down, add some new branches.
Leave no trace
To fit this fire into the ‘Leave no trace principal‘ you must dig a fire-pit in advance. This pit needs to be dug till sand or clay-ground is reached. Making a fire on rock-bottom is not recommended as the marks of your fire can never be erased. After the fire has burned down and the coals are cooled, the top-ground layer can be placed on top to leave no trace.
Pro’s and con’s
The Pagoda fire is, like said, effective in providing warmth, much light and perfect for a low-maintenance fire. It can also be used to cook and it creates very little smoke. The construction can be build while the fire is already burning and is meant to burn for as long as you like. As long new fuel is added >1,5hr. It will also keep animals away and it doesn’t need a lot of initial expenditure of energy to create.
It is important to cut the branches in exactly the same size to maintain the steady shape. Side-branches have to be cut off before adding to the construction. Therefore this fire is not easy to build when you don’t have a medium / big sized axe.
It depends on your situation which fire technique is best for you.
You have to pay attention to the possibility of a root fire when using a pagoda fire in a wooded area. This is a fire that burns underground along the root system of a tree. Root fires can also travel underground and resurface some distance from their point of origin. This is especially the case in dry conditions.