The protagonist of Jack London's short story builds three fires on his journey through the Yukon territory. The naive young man builds his first fire after he attempts to eat his lunch but cannot move his lips to bite into his biscuits. When the newcomer realizes that he cannot move his mouth, he builds a small fire to warm himself. The fire melts the ice on his face and allows him an opportunity to eat his lunch.
After stepping through thin ice and getting his moccasins wet, the traveler frantically builds a second fire underneath a tree. The tree begins to sway each time the man breaks branches and twigs off of it until a load of snow falls directly onto his fire. With his second fire extinguished, the man begins to feel the effects of hypothermia set in and has difficulty moving his hands. Unable to use his fingers, the newcomer manages to grab the box of matches and rubs the entire pack against his leg, which ignites all seventy matches at once. He then holds the flaming pack of matches against the tree bark and manages to catch the bark on fire before he drops the flaming matches into the snow. The traveler desperately attempts to place small sticks onto the fire but cannot feed the flames properly and the third fire dies. Unable to build a successful fire, the naive traveler freezes to death in the Alaskan wilderness.