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Burn Pile 101

Burn Pile 101I tend to accumulate a lot of brush during the course of the year. My pile was around 15 feet around and 10 feet high. I usually try to keep it a bit more manageable, but you know how it goes.

Anyway, a few tips on making it safe and easy.

First thing to remember, it CAN get away from you in a heartbeat. DO plan to stick around and keep a close eye on things, especially with a pile this size.

- Building the pile. I always start fresh in the spring with all the winter debris that litters the yard. That's usually smaller stuff that will make a nice core. Later in the season, all the bush and tree trimmings get stacked around the perimeter teepee fashion. Helps to stab a few straight sticks thru the pile occasionally to help support it. This preparation will pay dividends later.

- Pick a cloudy day for your burn. Fire department won't notice the smoke against a grey sky.

But seriously, one of those gun metal grey skies tend to mean you've also got still air and you've had a decent soaker in the recent past to wet down the surrounding area. The brush dries quickly and a somewhat damp pile is easier to control.

- Clear the area. I trim back anything taller than a couple feet for a couple yards around the pile. Heat rises, and anything taller will get crisp and maybe ignite. If the field is dry, I'll mow around it and rake the clippings into the pile, but it's not necessary if it's green.

IMPORTANT - have a garden hose ready and make sure you have enough slack to reach any part of the pile. Do lay it out carefully so you don't have kinks at inopportune moments.

- Light the pile. Old trick my daddy taught me. Wrap newspaper around a piece of pipe and tie it with twine. Pull the tube off the pipe and set it aside, then poke the pipe into the pile and work it a bit to widen the hole. One paper tube at one end of the pile makes it easier to control once things get going.  Slide the paper tube in and pour about a half pint of gas into and over the tube. You want to get the tube wet all the way, get a bit of fuel into the core of the pile, and if the paper is wet on the outside, that helps to start the brush around the hole all the way to the top. Toss a match at the top of the tube, and it'll light fast but not go boom. I use two cycle mix - the oil burns slower and you get a better light.

- Time to work the fire. I hose mine down regularly until it settles down. Once I see embers and know things are going well, I'll start to hose down the hot spots. You don't want roaring flames and embers shooting to the sky. You also obviously don't want to put it out, so play it by ear. Once some of the higher brush catches, hose down the hot spots at the base of the flames to calm things down. I also mist the surrounding area a bit just to make sure no embers got away from me. If you set things up right, you'll have a good burn on one side of the pile and it'll work it's way over to the other end at a steady pace. If you built the pile right, the center will collapse down on itself, and you can just flip the longer stuff around the edges in with a hay rake.

- Here's the fun part. There will come a point where the fire will settle down to where you can park the hose, pull up a chair, pop a beer, and sit back and bask in the warmth. You want to do the layered look - mid forties here today, so I started out with two sweatshirts. Ended up down to a t-shirt for a while, which is neat this time of the year.

- The embers will burn for quite some time - days even. If you scrape those towards the center of the ash, they'll be fine, but still best to take a look every now and then.

Worth repeating - it CAN get away from you in a heartbeat. So let’s be careful out there!


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