The Spoken Law recorded in the Talmud gives many more details of prohibited labor on the Sabbath than what you'd see in a strict literal reading of the verse. Moses commands the people to keep the Sabbath, and then to build the Tabernacle. The Talmud concludes that any act of physical creation used to build the Tabernacle is prohibited "work" on the Sabbath. For instance you'll never find a verse that weaving is prohibited on Sabbath, but traditional Judaism follows the Talmud that as it was an act of labor building the Tabernacle, it's prohibited.
(The commentaries address why Exodus chose to single out kindling over any other labor; one suggestion is that kindling tends to be an enabler rather than the final product for many labors -- I am kindling so I can dye this wool or cast this gold -- and yet it is still prohibited.)
The Talmud's interpretation of the prohibition of kindling includes both starting and fueling a flame. Therefore adding fuel to an existing fire would be prohibited.
As for how people managed: ideally, leave enough wood around from before the Sabbath to last the whole day. Otherwise, often a non-Jew was asked (or employed) to add fuel. While generally we try to avoid asking a non-Jew to do labor on the Sabbath that we can't do, there is a dispensation for those who are unwell, and we don't want people to get frostbite.