In "To Build a Fire," how did the second fire go out?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The man has little trouble building the first fire.

Working carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his face and in the protection of which he ate his biscuits. 

But later on he breaks through the snow-covered ice into a spring and wets himself halfway to his knees. He is forced to build a second fire, a process which the author Jack London describes in more detail. For a short time the man feels safe and comfortable. His dog also enjoys the warmth of the fire with him. But then the man realizes that he had made a serious mistake--a chechaquo mistake. He had built his fire under a big spruce tree that was heavily shrouded in snow. His pulling twigs off the tree and nearby brush had created enough agitation to upset the extremely precarious balance of snow on the branches of the spruce tree all the way up to the top. Also the heat from his fire must have had some effect in shifting the snow on the heavily laden branches.

It was his own fault or, rather, his mistake. He should not have built the fire under the spruce tree. He should have built it in the open....High up in the tree one bough capsized its load of snow. This fell on the boughs beneath, capsizing them. This process continued, spreading out and involving the whole tree. It grew like an avalanche, and it descended without warning upon the man and the fire, and the fire was blotted out! Where it had burned was a mantle of fresh and disordered snow.

Now the man is in serious trouble and is becoming badly frightened. When he tries to build a third fire out in the open away from the trees, his hands have become so frozen that he cannot light his matches. Jack London again describes the man's efforts to build a fire, but in the end the man ignites all his wooden matches at once and is still unable to keep the pitiful little fire going. Eventually he freezes to death in the snow and his dog abandons him.

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