Burning a Slash Pile

Two weeks after burning the first two piles we burned two more. As those burns got started, someone called 911, so the volunteer firemen had to respond and verify we had done everything properly (we had *). They were not amused; it had rained the night before and they felt any sensible person would know there was no danger. Besides, the two burning piles were surrounded by lots of snow. As predicted, the weather remained fair until around 5PM, when there was rain, then snow.

On March 25, the weather forecast looked good for another burn so we did our last one for the Spring season.

8:15AM — We had called in the burn at 7:30AM. For good measure, we called "someone" (there are few secrets in the canyon) to tell them we were doing a burn and not to get concerned. Arthur shoves burning cardboard into a dry spot on the south side of the pile to get it started. We were a bit short on cardboard by now, so we soaked 2 ounces of gasoline into one piece and shoved it into the pile before lighting it.

This slash pile is relatively small. We start the fire near the top in hopes of reducing the flare up that occurs as the loosely stacked wood catches. It is quite cold, but soon we will be ditching our jackets as the heat from the fire builds.

8:30AM — Arthur monitors the start of the burn. This picture of the north side shows how much snow has accumulated on the pile and how much is on the slope above the pile. We like the snow because it helps slow down the fire and keeps it from spreading.

In the background at the left of the picture is a large slash pile with a small alcove we hollowed out to shelter in during the frequent snow flurries. We hope to break the large pile up into smaller ones this Summer so we can burn it in the Fall.

8:45AM — This is the flare up and it is the most dangerous time for the fire. If the wind starts blowing while the flames are high, the snow on the branches of nearby trees might not be enough to keep them from catching. As it is, the heat from this fire will probably kill the lower branches of the tree enveloped in smoke.

Gary stands by with a backpack sprayer to douse any small fires started by the sparks. The smoke is caused by the melting snow (this is when someone might call 911). In another 15 minutes, the fire is much smaller and there is very little smoke. As the fire burns, we clear the brush around the fire to reduce chances of spreading.

12:30PM — Things are getting pretty calm now. Note how the fire has melted the snow for quite a distance around. The fire is still very hot; we can only stand to be near it 15 seconds at a time as we try to shove burning material toward the center. We wear our heavy clothing and face masks to protect us from the heat rather than the cold!

When the weather is nice we bring potatoes, brats and other fixings up to prepare dinner by wrapping food in foil and baking it in the ashes. However, by 3:15PM, snow was accumulating around the site and there were no flames, so we built a moat of snow around the perimeter and went home to rest. By 4:15PM, it was snowing heavily.

8:00AM Next Morning — The pile of ashes is still hot enough to remain dry in spite of the snow and the cold; it is 9°F. A new accumulation of snow greatly reduces any chances of the fire spreading even if the wind picks up. We still keep track of the wind and if does pick up we return to monitor the pile. And we return periodically to see if things are going well.

One of the burns we did 3 weeks ago is still smoldering. It looks like something one expects to see in Yellowstone Park! The reason it continues to smolder is there was a large mass of wet fir needles at the bottom of the pile and they will slowly burn as the heat dries them out. Even though there are 2 to 3 wet months ahead, we want to make sure this one is out. In a few days, we will spread out the ashes from the 5 burns and shovel snow onto the sites to make sure they are out. After the snow melts we will spread seed on the sites and then monitor them for weeds during the Summer.

There are two large piles and one small pile left; we hope to take care of them this Fall. During the Summer we will try to break the large piles up and eliminate any large masses of needles.

Parting Shot
3 Days and 7 Hours After Start

This was an ideal burn. There were no large masses of needles so it was pretty much over in one work day. The ashes are still warm, but there are several more days of snow in the forecast to cool it off and wet it down.

* The requirements for doing a burn include:
  1. buy a burn permit,
  2. call the dispatcher with details of a burn 30 minutes before starting,
  3. monitor the burn until it is out,
  4. burn only during daylight hours,
  5. call the dispatcher if the fire is still smoking past sundown,
  6. burn only when weather conditions are favorable.
Guidelines for creating and burning slash piles are here.