Lighting a fire without matches

Discover more about the history of matches and learn how lighting a fire without matches in an extreme survival situation can save your life.

Fire is one of the four earthly elements that include wind, water and earth.

Unlike earth, wind and water, fire provides heat, a means of cooking, sterilisation, and a psychological boost to one’s sense of well-being, especially in a survival situation.

Also, there is a primal link between man and fire and everyone in a survival situation should know how to start and fuel a survival fire using a range of tools available.
Although a description of the match was recorded in a 10th Century Chinese book entitled “Records of the Unworldly and the Strange”, the first friction match was invented in Hamburg in the late 17th Century by a German.  At the time, an alchemist named Hennig Brandt was attempting to transform a mix of base metals into gold, but instead created phosphorous.  Over a decade later, the British physicist named Robert Boyle coated paper in phosphorous and a splinter of wood in sulphur.  When the wood was drawn across the folded paper, the wooden splinter burst into flames. Subsequently, in the mid-19th Century a pharmacist named John Walker created a match after stirring a mixture of potassium chloride, antimony sulphide, gum and starch with a wooden stick.  Using the stick to remove some of the solution that had dried on the end, the stick burst into flames.  John Walker gave a demonstration in London which was attended by a Mr. Samuel Jones.  Mr. Jones recognised the commercial potential and began manufacturing the match which he named “Lucifers”.

“Lucifers” were used to light cigarettes but the phosphorous matches created by the French chemist Charles Sauria were more user-friendly because they were odourless and longer than the English version.

Consequently, phosphorous based matches were manufactured in large quantities, often using child labour.  By the end of the 19th Century, the Swedes had improved on the match and an American attorney invented the matchbook, which became a means of advertising for a brewing company in 1896.
Although matches, and subsequently lighters, have become an easy way for starting a fire, other fire starters have existed for many years.  The use of flint for fire-making was practiced by early Homo Sapiens as well as the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Flint and steel was a common means of fire starting in the late medieval period and was a critical component for the combustion of black powder in early guns and rifles.  Aborigines and other so-called “primitive tribes people” have used a bow drill and other friction methods, including a fire piston, to light a fire without matches.

Therefore, although matches and various forms of lighters are readily available, it is useful to understand other methods of lighting fires without matches.

  • – Stretch out some steel wool and rub the side of 9 Volt battery with the strands of steel wool.  As the steel wool begins to glow and burn, blow gently and transfer the burning wool to your tinder nest.
  • – Use chocolate as a polish to rub the bottom of a fizzy drinks’ can and make it shine like mirror.  After polishing the bottom of the can, you would have created a parabolic mirror which you can then point towards the sun.  Place your tinder 2 centimetres from the reflecting light’s focal point and the tinder will ignite.
  • – Mix equal parts of glycerine and potassium permanganate and crush together in a crumbled piece of paper.  Within minutes of being combined, smoke will appear and a flame will ignite the paper.  Glycerine is the active constituent of anti-freeze, which is contained in the batteries of all cars.

You can also use a bow drill for starting a fire but friction-based fire making requires patience.  However, the principle of starting a fire using a hand drill, bow and drill or a fire plough, is the same – you need to create enough friction between the spinning spindle (vertical) and the fire board (horizontal) in order to create an ember to start your fire.

Operating in Emerging Markets within Africa

As companies have realised that fewer business opportunities exist in a saturated domestic market, new business development has focused on emerging markets.

A recent review of emerging markets within Africa has identified nine countries that have already emerged; and a further ten classified as “up-coming emerging markets”.  Given the fact that many of these African countries have higher growth rates than many First World economies, it is not surprising that successful companies are looking to secure greater returns on their investments in these economies.

However, for companies interested in exploiting opportunities in African emerging markets, senior management needs to understand that areas of potentially high profits also pose equally high risks.  Read more

Survival food, what to eat in a hostile environment

During our H.E.A.T courses, attendees often express a concern as to what to eat in a hostile environment, they ask us about survival food.

Specifically the attendees want to know which edible wild plant they can eat or at least how to identify poisonous plants for humans.  

Recent studies of Supply Chain Management have established that most urban environments only store sufficient food resources for 72 hours or, more appropriately, 9 meals.  Therefore, should you be in a situation whereby civil order has collapsed, strikes often prevent delivery to supermarkets and retail outlets have been ransacked and you need to fend for yourself, the following principles of survival should be followed. Read more

Attracting attention, what to do when lost

Much debate is held by the attendees on our H.E.A.T. courses with regards to rescue.  A common request is how to attract attention and what to do when lost.   A survivor is anyone who is rescued from a hostile environment, whether such an environment exists on land, sea or in an urban setting.  You can get lost at any time, and for many reasons, so you must know how to signal and attract the attention of a search party. Read more

Learn to Point North and to read a compass

During our H.E.A.T courses, attendees often share an all too common experience – the alarming feeling of being lost.  However, by using some simple navigation techniques , understanding how to point north and learning how to read a compass, you might become temporarily unaware of your surroundings in a hostile environment … but never lost.

If you think you are lost, stop travelling and take stock of your surrounding.  You should be able to recall your point and time of departure, your destination and have a rough estimate of the distance you have travelled and in which direction.  If you are flying, you might know your approximate ground speed and flying time.  These two indicators should give you an idea of the area in which you have landed. Read more

Protective Strategies for Hot Environments

During our H.E.A.T courses, many attendees have commented about how the African sun often creates a unique, but dangerous, hot environment for survivors.  As a result, attendees know about the power of the sun, but often fail to understand the danger of operating in hot climates.  Learn which are the more effective  Strategies for protection from Hot Environments.

Deserts occupy over 20% of Earth’s land surface and they often comprise sand, rock, alkali, rocky plateau and mountain.  Of the eight main desert areas of the world, two are located in Africa.  The Sahara desert has little vegetation and is characterised by loose shifting sand.  The Sahara has areas of sandstone, limestone, volcanic rock, salt marshes, canyons and erg (hard gravel).  The Sahara experiences hot cyclonic winds which cause major sandstorm.  The nights are cold during the winter months and require extensive insulation.

The Kalahari is located in the South African Highlands and consists of extensive areas of red sand and flats.  Much of the Kalahari is covered by a heavy growth of scrub trees.

Often, movement in the desert can be very hazardous.  You should avoid the mid-day sun and travel at night or before dawn.  You should follow trails, a water source or a road and travel in a specific direction rather than wandering aimlessly.  It is better to walk on the windward side of the tops of sand dunes than walk up and down them in an effort to stay on a straight course.  During a sandstorm, lie on your side with your back to the wind, but cover your face.  You can sleep through a sandstorm, despite the noise, without worrying about getting buried alive – a Hollywood myth.  Remember that objects always appear closer than they really are in the desert, so you should multiply your distance estimations by three.

Despite these recommendations for traveling in the desert, and in many hot environments, you must take steps to remain cool.  In urban areas, stay indoors as much as possible and remember that cool air falls, so you should stay in the lowest levels of a building i.e.: a cellar or bunker.  During hot weather, eat smaller meals more often.  You should consume carbohydrates rather than proteins, as proteins require water for digestion and increase metabolic heat.

Two adverse reactions are often experienced by people operating in hot environments.  When body fluids are lost due to heavy sweating, your body increases blood flow to the skin, decreases blood flow to your organs, and put your body into a form of mild shock.  Symptoms include cool or flushed skin; headaches; dizziness; nausea and exhaustion.  These symptoms of sun stroke require you to move out of the heat, loosen tight clothing and apply cool wet cloths to the body.  Drink slowly every 15 minutes and rest in a comfortable position.

Heatstroke is a more serious and life threatening condition.  When the systems which control sweating cease to function, your core body temperature can rise quickly and cause brain damage or death.

Symptoms of heatstroke include hot, red skin; quick shallow breathing; and a rapid but weak pulse.  Unlike heat exhaustion, the body temperature can become extremely high.

The solution is to cool down body as quickly as possible.  Emerge the victim in cold water or wrap the body in a wet sheet and use a fan to circulate cool air.  Keep the victim still, but do not provide anything to drink if the patient is unconscious, semi-conscious or vomiting.

Countering a Suicide Bomber Attack

In any hostile environment, terrorist weapons involving munitions and explosive ordinance require three types of delivery systems:

  • a missile, artillery shell or bomb launched from land, air or sea.
  • landmines, improvised explosive devices (IED) or explosive weapons such as mortars or rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).
  • suicide bomber Read more

Dangerous killers and most common diseases in Africa

Here the most common diseases and causes of death in Africa.


The female mosquito (Anopheles Culex) infects its victims with a single-celled parasite called Plasmodium, which multiplies in red blood cells and causes malaria. When a female mosquito sucks blood from an infected person, the Malaria parasites reproduce in her body and migrate to the salivary glands. When the next person is bitten, they would be injected with the saliva carrying the parasite and would become infected. Once in the bloodstream, the parasite travels to the liver where they grow and multiply into millions of malaria germs into periods of 5 to 10 days. Read more

AVPU and Emergency Medicine

How you check for consciousness: the AVPU (Alert, Voice, Pain and Unresponsiveness) scale.

On the HEAT course we teach Emergency Medicine rather than First Aid.

First Aid promotes the ABC (Airway, Breathing, and Circulation) system, although bleeding is the most common cause of avoidable death. In many hostile environments, you could face the threat of bullet wounds and mine injuries, especially from anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. Read more

Hostile Environments

The inner diversity of Africa

Africa is the second largest continent on Earth and contains both the oldest and largest deserts in the world.
The continent is home to almost 1 billion people who speak over 1000 different languages.

Africa has huge mineral resources, abundant oil and vast areas that can be developed for agricultural purposes. Read more