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The Altar Fire (or alter fire) in its simplest form is a fire that is built on a structure raising it off of the ground. If built traditionally this would be made out of crossed green logs in cabin style, with a flat surface on top that is covered in a thick layer of mud to act as an insulator so the wood frame doesn’t catch fire.
It would be easy to think this is simply to avoid leaning down over a camp fire to create a better ergonomic cooking arrangement, this is true, but often not the reason it is primarily done. The Alter Fire is what needs to be built when you are cooking in areas with peat, wet ground such as mud or marshes, and sometimes even snow.
Modern versions of this include lashed frames, steel frames and even raised split drums have been known to carry this name.
How to Build an Altar Fire
1/ Assess the location. If the ground is not suitable to lighting a fire directly on it then an alter fire is required. As this type of fire is high above the ground it is more susceptible to wind so a location with a natural windblock would be ideal. As always consider the surroundings for fire hazards, wind direction and similar.
2/ Create the base. Once the size of the fire is known then wet logs of that size must be gathered for the stand. Construct the base in a stable criss cross fashion. It is critical for safety that this structure is stable, so groves where the logs cross may be required to insure it doesn’t move or slip. At about waist height, build a flat platform, this can easily be done by laying a series of evenly sized logs across the upper most part of the frame.
Cover the flat platform with a layer of thick mud at least 2 inches / 5cm thick. Clay soil works best, sandy solid should be avoided.
3/ Lay the fire. Once the base building is completed, lay the fire of choice like a Log Cabin Fire or a Tepee Fire.
4/ Light the fire. Light the alter fire and tend as required for you intended dish.
5/ Maintaining the fire. The fire needs to be continually maintained as it could become dangerous if part of the fire was to fall off the altar, or worse the whole altar was to fail.
6/ Extinguishing the fire. It is essential that this fire is completely out every time you have finished cooking with it. When finished at the location it will need to be dismantled. Do not leave until it is fully extinguished and cool to the touch otherwise it can re-ignite.