One of the greatest fire starters in nature is fatwood, also commonly called pitch pine. It ignites readily, burns hot and long, and can be found almost anywhere pine trees (especially pinyon) grow. I keep a small piece of it, along with a lighter or a few waterproof matches in my pocket or day pack whenever I am hunting or spending time in the outdoors. In an emergency or survival situation I can quickly get a fire going.
Fatwood is usually located in the bottom section of dead pine trees – probably caused by an over-abundance of sap or “pitch” being present when the tree died. The sap saturates the wood in the stump, dries, and the result is a really good, super-combustible kindling. Not all dead trees contain the pitch pine, in fact you will probably need to spend some time hunting around to find a tree or stump that is pitchy.
Start by looking in areas where there are fire-killed pines. Cut some regular firewood along the way, you will likely need to fell a number of trees before finding a stump that is loaded with pitch, and might as well fill the woodshed or Granny’s porch while you are at it. Another good place to look is in an area with a lot of pine stumps left over from a logging operation. Look for stumps that have streaks, beads, or even puddles of dried pitch lacing the top surface. A yellow or golden color is often present as well, contrasting with the surrounding gray weathered wood. Usually the fatwood is concentrated in the middle of the stump.
Once you have located a pitchy tree or stump, take your time and saw out the fatwood. Take it home and split it into kindling sized pieces. Keep it hidden from your relatives, and don’t show your buddy’s what you’ve got, unless you want all your hard-earned fatwood to evaporate into their pockets and packs.
I once – in a fit of curiosity – lit a good piece of fatwood, about five inches long and a half-inch in diameter and stuck one end in the ground. Forty-five minutes later it finally burned out. When in need of a blaze, I’d rather have a little piece of fatwood, than an armful of crumpled newspaper sheets.