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As survivalists, it's easy to fall victim to our own pride. We all like to think we'll be able to survive any disaster on our own, using the experience, knowledge, and gear we possess. But there may come a day when it's necessary to call for help, and if that day comes, you'll need to know how to do so effectively. In previous articles, we've discussed a variety of emergency signals, including DIY noisemakers, NATO panel signals, and international ground-to-air signal code — each of these can clearly indicate your position when you need help.
One of the most widely-known improvised emergency beacons is a large pillar of smoke from a signal fire. You're probably aware that throwing leafy green branches onto a fire is a quick way to produce white smoke, but it's not necessarily that simple. If you put too many of these branches on at once or toss them on haphazardly, you'll extinguish the fire along with your hopes of rescue. It's essential to plan your signal fire ahead of time, and prepare it to produce smoke at a moment's notice.
The video below from YouTuber Mr. Baron shows how to convert an extremely simple tipi-style fire into a signal fire by perching pine branches on top of the structure. This design allows plenty of airflow on the sides of the fire, ensuring it can burn efficiently.
Survival Russia shows another method that incorporates an elevated platform into the middle of the tipi. The green branches are then hung along the sides like shingles on an improvised shelter, while gaps in the base platform provide airflow to feed the fire. This configuration has some advantages, such as protecting the underlying tinder from wind, rain, and moisture on the ground.
Regardless of the method you use, it's critical to remember that if you want to make the most of your signal fire, you shouldn't just throw a few fronds onto your existing campfire. You may only have one shot at signaling to a nearby boat or aircraft, and as always, preparation will improve your chances of success.