Fire is your best friend in the wild, when it is doing what it is supposed to do. And fire can be used as a very effective signal for help, with many documented successes over the years.
Remember that there is a fine line of control when lighting and maintaining big fires. This line is often controlled by the wind and the amount of dry vegetation downwind of the blaze.
Consider these important things about signal fires.
• The fire should be in a very visible place, so that both the smoke and light are visible.
• The fire should be in a place where it won’t get away from you. The middle of dried grasslands on a breezy day is a very bad place to burn a big fire.
• Don’t let the fire get so big that you cannot put it out with the means you have at hand.
• Think about contrast. Almost all natural fire fuel (vegetation) will produce a white smoke. If it is a cloudy day or foggy, no one will notice your white smoke. Throw a few ounces of motor oil, brake fluid, cooking oil or any other oily substance into the fire to produce black smoke, which is much more noticeable.
And a final thought about signal fires, put them out cold when they have done their job. Before the chopper lifts you out, or the search party escorts you away, be sure to put the fire out with water and make sure it is dead.