Lighting a campfire: matches or cigarettes

Even fabric like pieces of cloth, or rags?

Especially those. I am telling, try it yourself. Lighting any intentional fire with a cigarette and common materials is an almost impossible task. Pour some gasoline or oil on the rags too if you want. It still won’t work. The outer layer of the cigarette tip simply isn’t hot enough to start a fire with any common material the vast majority of the time.

Most people do not believe that intuitively because they have seen way too many movies where a single cigarette blows up a a gas station or starts an instant forest fire but it doesn’t work that way in real life at all. You can literally throw lit cigarettes into containers of gasoline all day long and all you will get is a bunch of extinguished cigarettes.

I agree.* Almost* had a match burn down to your fingers? You’re truly living on the edge, and need to rein it in!

A lit cigarette might work better than a match in windy conditions, where an ember will catch better than a flame. Can’t say I’ve tried it because I don’t smoke.

Paper towels, newspaper and dry leaves all have a remarkable tendency to smolder rather than light. In general flat sheets of material don’t seem to catch well; they tend to burn at the edges where little of the heat contributes to igniting the rest while the centers choke for lack of sufficient oxygen. Fibrous material like lint or dry grass have a better surface area ratio.

My problem with matches is usually the opposite. More times than I care to count the flame fails to ignite the wood and it dies after the head finishes flaring, leading me to make sarcastic comments about fireproof matches.

This leads me to ask another question, which I still have never figured out by now. If the lighters have fluid, how come when the lighter starts the flame, it’s not a huge flame like the fire you get when you put gasoline on a fire?

That one is pretty easy. The fuel itself isn’t combustible on its own as long as it is in a sealed container. It is only one ingredient in the recipe. You also need oxygen mixed in with it in the approximate right ratio as well as heat to ignite it. If you get the fuel/air mixture too rich or too lean, it will not ignite.

Most fuels are intentionally engineered to only burn under certain mixture conditions. If they weren’t, they would be more appropriately called explosives. The lighter jet itself produces the correct fuel to air mixture that allows it to burn while the inside of the lighter has much too rich of a fuel mixture to burn at all under any normal conditions.

You can take a lighter apart and pour it on an already hot fire to burn it quickly but it won’t produce such a flame spontaneously in a sealed container just like car gas tanks don’t explode easily. The fuel to air mixture is too rich to ignite easily without a very active source of heat.

Man, if that had happened to me I would have just gone home. I wouldn’t even have been able to type the opening post of this thread, the whole subject would have given me nightmares. Kudos to the OP for keeping it together at all following his horrific NDE.

I’ve made some $$ in bars betting $20 someone cannot burn a hole in a twenty dollar bill I hold wrapped tightly around their arm. One guy burned his arm up pretty badly before he let me keep his twenty.

Just precisely how drunk are these idiots :confused:

They were the kinda idiots who woulda taken the bet sober. The amazing part was how people don’t quit immediately when they feel intense burning but the bill is unchanged. They get the cigarette cherry as hot as they can and keep trying. Ouch.


You’re missing the opportunity to make some real dough. Crank the wager up to $500 and bet 'em they can’t take out their own appendix. :rolleyes:

FWIW: as an experiment, I tried tearing newspaper into strips (easy if you go with the grain) until I had a big bunch of thin ribbons. A match quickly ignited that to a short-lived but big fire.

This thread makes me wonder why throwing a lit cigarette out the window in the forest or along the highway into the dry grass is such a no no.

Is Smoker really that wrong? Is it really just bad campfires that start forest fires? What about the grass fires along the highways?

The danger from lit cigarets is just propaganda?

I be cornfussed…


Use a matchbook match to light a sparkler to light a Diamond wooden match to light your lighter to light a votive candle to light a Sandalwood scented candle to light a large Advent candle to light a torch to light a flare to stick under your butt until you learn how to build a proper fire.

Puff on this.

I love firestarter sticks. I love them so much and I refuse to camp without them even though my friends mock me for using them. Well, they sleep til 8 or 9 and when I’m camping, I wake up at 6. I’m not waiting for their asses to get out of bed to make a fire the ‘real’ way before I can get my coffee.

Wind, long smoldering time* and statistics.

Even if it’s a “1 in a million” chance, there are a lot of cigarettes smoked and butts tossed (but they totally shouldn’t be! Learn to field strip, asshole!) There are 360,000,000,000 cigarettes smoked in the US every year. That’s a lot of ones in lots of millions that can start a fire.

Plus, it’s a human thing, with a human solution if you make humans aware of the potential problem. Campers are also routinely and repeatedly educated about fire safety, using fire rings or rocks, clearing the area around the fire and completely extinguishing campfires before leaving your camp site. We don’t have many PSAs about preventing lightening strikes (a more common source for forest fires) because…well, what the hell are you gonna do to prevent a lightening strike?
*As alluded to upthread, when cigarettes start forest or couch or house fires, it’s rarely quickly. They work themselves (often with the help of the wind, but sometimes just gravity) into a pile of other things that make better kindling (leaves, fabric, fiberfill) and create an ember out of them that smolders for minutes or hours. EVENTUALLY, that will start a fire. Eventually isn’t quick enough for starting an intentional and safe campfire.

Good answer WhyNot. For years, I have been interested in the question of why it is almost impossible to start a fire with just a lit cigarette and common materials intentionally and yet there really are some fires that are started accidentally that way. Your answer is basically what I came up with as well. It takes the exact right conditions, a long smoldering time and a huge number of attempts.

There is also a misattribution problem. When a wildfire starts in a wooded area and there is no obvious cause, it is often blamed on a discarded cigarette because that is something the general public believes can easily happen even even if it is much more unlikely than most people assume. There are cigarette butts spread beside every roadway and campground in America. That isn’t good evidence that one of them was the real cause of any unexplained fire.


Now I am sure you are not directing that at me but as written, I have to take that on faith because a straight reading does indicate that you are directing it at me.

Way out of bounds IMO.

What makes you think I smoke at all? :confused:
What makes you think that I do not know how to field strip a cigarette? :rolleyes:

The OP was about cigarettes starting fires and with all the consensus that it is very hard, I asked a simple question.
I made no claims, did not say that anyone was wrong, I just asked why. :dubious:

Will you please explain your attitude towards me & explain in such a way that there can be no doubt of who you are referring to. :cool:


Calm down. I don’t think she was insulting you in the least. You asked a very legitimate follow-up question that many people would ask and she answered it well. It is as simple as that. I didn’t read any insult or even a tint of slight directed towards you personally into it.