For much of history, human survival was dependent upon the ability to make fire. Most modern humans will never find themselves in a situation where their survival depends upon their ability to make a fire, but creating fire without matches is still a pretty neat trick to know. There are emergency fire-making kits available commercially, but they tend to be costly. Besides, if you can manage to carry an emergency fire-making kit everywhere you go, you can manage to carry a lighter. In a real emergency, you will likely have to make do with common materials you can forage from around you. Here is a method for starting a fire using your cell phone. You may even want to grab a free cell phone to practice on.
Besides a cell phone with a charged battery, you will need a small amount of steel wool and some tinder. Steel wool is available in most hardware or discount stores in the paint department. It is also available as pre-soaped scouring pads from nearly all grocery stores. To start a fire, you will need a piece of steel wool equal to about a quarter of a pre-soaped scouring pad. Tinder is virtually anything that lights easily and burns quickly without producing toxic fumes. Dead plants or grass that have dried, lint, including dryer lint, paper, wax, moss, pine pitch, fir needles and wood shavings all make good tinder.
Starting a fire with a cell phone is an uncertain undertaking. It can sometimes happen quickly, but your fire can go back out just as quickly, so make sure your tinder is ready before you begin. Tinder can burn up quickly or fail to catch, as well, so it's not a bad idea to lay your fire, including kindling and fuel, before you even pick up your cell phone.
Once you have your fire ready and your tinder nearby, remove the battery from your cell phone. Look for the battery contacts. Usually, these are near the bottom of the battery, and they often look like rectangular gaps in the casing. Gently pull your piece of steel wool until it is about an inch long. Gently roll the steel wool into a loose twist. Keeping it loose will allow plenty of oxygen to reach the burning area to feed the combustion once it begins to smolder.
Bend the twist of steel wool into a hairpin shape and touch one end of the steel wool to each battery contact. This should cause a short and the steel wool should begin to smolder. Avoid breathing the fumes from the burning steel wool, since they are toxic. Once the steel wool begins to smolder heavily, gently place the smoldering steel wool onto your tinder. If the tinder catches, you are all set. As long as you have a properly lain fire with appropriate kindling, you should soon have a crackling fire to warm yourself by, dry your clothes and gear with and to use to cook your dinner.
If things don't work perfectly the first time, keep trying. Patience is the most important thing when it comes to making a fire without matches or a lighter, and perseverance is a close second. This is a tricky process and there are a number of points where it can fail. When this happens, simply make adjustments as necessary and make another attempt. If you don't have a cell phone, you can follow the same steps to make a fire with a 9-volt battery.