This story is about a fob-bish man on the Yukon Trail on a very cold day (-75°F, -60°C). His only traveling companion is a simple dog. The story describes the journey the man is taking to get to camp with his fellows. The cold does not faze the man, a newcomer to the Yukon, who plans to meet his friends (who are referred to as boys) by six o'clock at an old junction. He walks along a creek trail, mindful of the dangerous, hidden springs, because getting wet feet on such a cold day is dangerous. While he recognizes this danger, however, he ignores the other signs of danger, such as how quickly his spit freezes, how frosbitten his cheeks are becoming, and how reluctant the dog is to keep traveling. The man continues on and, in an apparently safe spot, falls through the snow and gets wet up to his shins. He remembers an old-timer who had warned him that no man should travel in the Klondike alone when the temperature was less than fifty degrees below zero, but he ignored the man's advice because he was prideful. It is now seventy-five degrees below zero, the man is wet and his feet are freezing, and it is so cold that he no longer possesses the coordination to build a fire. His hands are so numb he cannot control, or move them.
After having this accident, the man becomes scared and immediately starts a fire to dry his wet clothes. He foolishly starts the fire underneath a spruce tree, which is covered with snow, and keeps pulling twigs from it to feed the flames. The agitation eventually upsets the loaded boughs, which dump their weight of snow onto the fire and extinguish it. He then tries to start a new fire, aware that he is already going to lose a few toes from frostbite. He gathers twigs and grasses, then tries to light a match with his frozen, numbed fingers. He grabs all his matches and lights them all at once because he can't grab a single match on its own, then sets fire to a piece of bark. He starts the fire, but accidentally pokes it apart while trying to remove a piece of green moss. The man decides to kill the dog and to put his hands inside its warm body to restore his circulation, but due to the extreme cold, he cannot kill the dog because he is unable to pull out his knife, or even choke the animal. He lets it go.
In a desperate attempt to keep himself warm, he starts to run, trying to let the exertion heat his body. However, he has no stamina, and soon he stops and sits down. He imagines his friends finding his dead body in the snow, then himself telling the old-timer that he was right: It was foolish to travel alone. A warmth covers him and he falls into a deep, deadly, relaxing sleep. The dog does not understand why the man is sitting in the snow and not making a fire to warm them. As night falls, the dog comes closer to him and smells death on the man. It trots away "in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food-providers and fire-providers".
More information on Wikipedia.To Build a Fire, In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved October 11, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Build_a_Fire