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Every fall when school starts, I rearrange my gear for easier access: trout rods are stowed and steelhead rods take their place on the rack; hunting gear is checked, cleaned and arranged by species -- upland birds, duck, deer.

But this year -- for reasons many of you might understand -- I'm paying special attention to camping gear.

This is no call for a "survivalist mentality," but for some common sense -- especially if you have camping gear stuck away in the attic, where it's unfindable in an emergency. I don't like to think that power plants or drinking water supplies might be attacked, but we might have rolling blackouts, as was the case in California, we might have the normal power outages caused by winter storms, we might get a blizzard that strands us all indoors for days.

I'd think readers of this column would have the sense, the wherewithal and the moxie to handle such things.

After Hurricane Andrew pillaged South Florida some years ago, outdoors writers, at a subsequent gathering of our clan, thanked the Coleman company for sending in cook stoves and fuel -- but we were amazed that people were whining about not being able to cook.

"There was plywood all around them," said one, "didn't anybody know how to make a cooking fire?"

That's when I began to wonder if I could get to my gear -- in anything short of a hurricane that blew it all away -- and set to work. Since then I have our Coleman lanterns and fuel in a handy place, my backpacking stove, ditto, and several sleeping bags in easy reach. In severe winter weather I have been known to toss a candle lantern and a sleeping bag into the back seat, just in case.

Let me suggest why:

In this all-electric age we become petrified without light, and can be very uncomfortable without heat. Both quit when the power goes out. If the lines go down, as they did for weeks during an April ice storm some years ago, it is nice to have a good light, and a lantern provides that. Crack a window and a lantern will also heat a small room.

A cook stove is self-explanatory, even if only to make hot cocoa, and it, too, can help keep you from freezing if you ventilate enough to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Candle lanterns are a little brighter and more wind-proof than candles and inside a car can actually keep the interior fairly warm if you get covered up in a blizzard. Remember, leave a window cracked for fresh air!

Sleeping bags can do more than keep you warm, though that has to come first. But because insulation works both ways, if power goes out you can preserve perishables, by wrapping them in a spare sleeping bag. If it is really cold outside at night you can expose them to nighttime chill, then wrap them up in the sleeping bag when the sun comes up.

If you need to save a freezer full of food, and the situation is a normal power outage, just don't open the freezer.

Since I quit smoking and since almost none of my friends smoke anymore, finding matches is a problem, and yet nothing is handier to light stoves, lamps or candles. Butane lighters are OK, and many of us purchase them in the fall to carry them for emergency purposes. But waterproof matches, or strike-anywhere matches kept in a waterproof match safe, are really nice comfort items: Knowing they are there is always a comfort.

You might look in Dick's, EMS, Galyan's or any camping supply store for waterproof matches -- and the other gear mentioned. Might find some end-of-season sales going on, too.

Strike-anywhere kitchen matches (not easy to find anymore) can also be waterproofed at home by melting paraffin wax in a saucepan, then dipping the match heads. Emergency fire starters can be made from tiny cardboard boxes or small cubes of this newspaper, tied and soaked in that same molten paraffin wax.

If you are really a survivalist, try flint and steel. Or, better, one of those magnesium scraper sticks available at camping stores. Some fire lighters fit on a key chain. You shave off magnesium powder and flakes from the stick with your pocket knife, place a little dry tinder over it (the best is dryer lint scraped from the lint screen and kept in a water-tight metal can) then take the pocket knife and strike the magnesium stick to create hot sparks.

The sparks that will ignite the small pile of magnesium shavings and tinder and as that starts up lay on your twigs and slivers of dry wood (or those homemade fire starters) and build up your fire from there.

What, you only know how to build a fire with charcoal and kerosene?

Go read the Scout handbook, or better, the larger Scout Field Book, and learn what you need to know for outdoor (or indoor) emergencies.

Remember, "Be Prepared" is not just a motto.

Besides, you can impress your kids when you have them scavenge dry wood and build a small cook fire during your next fall picnic in the park.

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