The first question to answer is what is an Indian Fire?
Well the answer is that it is the only fire which performs best in high wind. Curiously the Indian fire is hardly mentioned in any Scout publication and so this web page will try to put it right!
The Indian fire is unusual among fires because it's flame can be changed from a smouldering bed of embers to a raging blast furnace in a few seconds. The Indian fire has several distinct advantages over normal fires: it is virtually smokeless; very fuel efficient; fully controllable; easy to clear up after use and works well in high winds. In fact the Indian fire not only works well in wind, it requires a wind to operate. This gives it its biggest advantage over normal fires.
Building an Indian fire is easy. Firstly find a piece of ground with good, dry-ish soil (sandy soils are easier to dig but tend to collapse onto the fire), note the wind direction and dig two holes in line with the wind direction The holes should be of a diameter slightly less than the pot you are going to use and about two pot widths apart. The holes should be about nine inches to a foot deep.
Once you have dug the two holes, dig along between the bottom of the two holes, joining them up to form a rough U shaped tunnel. Build a pot support at the mouth of the downwind hole (the exhaust hole), this can be anything from three similar sized stones place at equal distances around the mouth to a hanging pot holder.
The choice is yours, however you must leave a gap between the mouth
of the hole and the pot base to allow for good air circulation and to feed
Next you must build a windbreak between the two holes, the simplest windbreak is a flat piece of wood angled down towards the upwind hole (the intake hole).
Your windbreak should be able to be moved from an upright position to lie flat over the intake (the low flame position).
The windbreak is the most important element of the Indian fire, not
only does it collect and force the air down into the fire, it also acts
as a windbreak, preventing the wind from blowing the flames around. The
simple windbreak of a flat piece of wood, metal etc in not very efficient
since a lot of the air will escape from the sides of the windbreak. The
ideal windbreak should have fully enclosed sides and be angled down towards
the hole. If you wish to experiment with windbreaks try a square of heavy
canvas pegged with one corner at the hole, two other corners should be
pegged out at equal distances from the hole. A bit of wood can be used
to prop up the remaining corner. This will form a triangular air scoop
which should ram the air very efficiently into the fire. Reducing the flame
is a simple matter of moving the side pegs further out, lowering the front
of the scoop or covering the entrance hole a little. The flame can be increased
by moving the pegs in until they make an angle of around 45° with the
hole. At this point the windbreak should scoop the maximum amount of air.
The Indian fire is easier and less messy to tidy away than conventional fires. Simply put the fire out by pouring water down the hole, fill in the soil and replace the two pieces of turf. No need to dig a hole to bury the ashes, the hole is already dug and no large rolls of turf to replace, only two small squares.
The Indian fire provides a great deal of scope for experimentation
and as such can provide a worthwhile activity for a Scout night or camp.
The windbreak: what is the best shape and material to make it from; is
it possible to make an easily moveable windbreak instead of messing about
with pegs and wooden props? The fire itself: does the intake hole have
to be vertical, would an angled hole produce a better air flow; would an
intake hole larger than the exhaust hole produce a hotter flame (enlarging
the exhaust hole is not a good idea since instead of striking the bottom
of the pot, the flame will lick up around the outside and, apart from being
wasteful of heat, can either heat up the handle to a dangerous level or
else melt it off! Iím not joking!); does the fire have to sit on the bottom
of the hole; will the addition of a small metal grille which raises the
fire up a little allow the air to reach all the fire from below and so
work better? Why not try the Indian fire on a troop night and give the
Patrols the chance to experiment with improving the fire.