The smell of wood smoke in the air in spring is a time honored tradition in most suburbs and rural areas throughout Massachusetts. Getting rid of yard brush on a sunny day or on a rainy day, with leather gloves, a garden hose and a metal rake is relaxing and productive. If your fire draws a neighbor to chew the fat while poking the fire, even better. This year’s surfeit of brush and broken trees from last spring’s storms, Hurricane Irene, and the Halloween snow storm left plenty of fuel. This winter’s dry and relatively warm climate means fire danger is high.
This spring, fires that got out of control in Brimfield, Pembroke, and other towns around eastern Massachusetts remind us of the awful destructive power of fire. There are some simple common sense hints on keeping your fire under control.
Preparing for your brush fire:
Check with your local Fire Department on permits, burning hours, and so forth. The Fire Department will make a judgment call whether there is too much wind and not enough moisture on any given day.
Have a good hose the reaches well past your fire, turned on, before you light your fire.
Douse the area with water around the fire area before lighting. It’s a good idea to rake loose leaves and other tinder into the brush pile before ignition too.
Only after all your fire precautions have been set up do you want to unleash the beast.
Stay at the fire; when you’re ready to leave, douse and stir until all steam and smoke has stopped.
On a wet day or in a winter thaw, just getting the fire started can be challenging. I use crumpled newspaper down as low and as deep into the pile as I can get, and stack a little dry kindling over the newspaper. This year (2016), with little snow and not much rain, the ignition required only a match to the leaves near the bottom. The ease of starting our fire demonstrated quickly that this would be hot and fast burning.
The picture below shows how having done all the right things makes a difference. This particular fire has a long length of hose, and was available when embers landed on the grass near the pile. That spread quickly, but was quickly checked, because the tender was tending, and we were able to extinguish the spreading fire quickly. Two important lessons: if the garden hose had not been on (#3) and ready to go, the grass could have run quickly up to the house. Or, if the tender hadn’t been tending, the fire could have spread to “out of control”into the woods or neighborhood before he could react.
Fires spread in unpredictable directions (though pay particular attention to what’s down-wind), and can spread very quickly. Out of control is no way deal with fire.
When the fire is truly out, and thoroughly doused, stirred, and even a couple days old, go ahead and add next year’s brush.