Today’s post will be a lesson in the form of a tale designed to remind us how not to spend quality time with our neighbours.
I had agreed with our contractor’s suggestion that I take responsibility for burning the big brush piles (dried tree branches, trunks, roots etc. from the clearing of the site) that surround the house. In fact, I was looking forward to it, having grown up on a small farm and being used to burning piles. Besides, our extra clearing for views, garden areas and firewood certainly added to the piles so it was only fair that I help out with that. Sheila, was more worried about the whole idea and, after discussion, we agreed that I not burn the biggest piles which were too close to the house. The contractor agreed with us that it would not be good to burn the house down. So those piles would need to wait until the excavator guy came and moved them further from the house.
However, there were some more modest piles further away from the house, across the driveway, that needed burning.
Today was the day. I chose a Saturday because I didn’t want workers’ vehicles on the driveway when I was burning the piles nearby. I had my burn permit and, as required, called the fire office beforehand to ensure that there were no fire bans in place. I had expected that it might be difficult to get the pile fully alight (but decided not to bring an accelerant such as kerosene or gasoline with me). The pile caught much more easily than I expected with only a match and a few pieces of newspaper.
And soon, the whole pile was blazing, with flames that I estimated to be nearly 20 feet in height. The heat was intense enough that some of the grass around it caught fire but I didn’t have trouble controlling it before it got to the larger brush pile to the right. After observing the enthusiasm with which the first pile burnt, I had decided that the larger pile should not be lit until wetter weather because it was too close to trees behind it.
I had expected that the pile would smolder most of the day, but within an hour or so, only a few skeletons of trunks were left and a few hours later, with a little assistance, even those were gone.
Once that fire has subsided and was behaving itself, I turned my attention to another, slightly smaller pile nearby. It too got off to a good start. I was comfortable that the grass around it would not cause a problem if it caught fire because the breeze would simply move any grass fire towards the area already burnt.
To my horror, I looked up at one point and saw that the grass was indeed burning but, in addition to moving towards the first pile, it was also moving into the wind and towards some bushes near our stone fence and some trees and a telephone pole nearby. I had no idea that the fire would spread like that against the wind but then remembered that forest fire crews, in efforts to control a big blaze, sometimes lit back fires that moved against the wind.
I had a bucket of water with me and began dousing the grass fire but the area kept growing and my water supply was dwindling (our well is not yet hooked up). Sheila came with the car and I asked her to go and fill some more buckets while I ran to the neighbours to ask if I could fill my bucket. They saw that the fire was spreading and came with more buckets and were able to put a long hose together. Other neighbours from across the road came running with full buckets. After an intense 30 minutes or so with 6 of us working hard, we had the grass fires out.
Thankfully, it had stopped before the power pole, the trees and the beautiful lilac bushes that grow beside the historic stone fence.
I am sure that the line of fire marching across the grass, with a number of people running with buckets of water, would have made a great photo but I hope that you will forgive me for not stopping my frantic efforts at fire suppression to take a picture of it. But here is a picture of the field between the driveway and the stone fence after the fire. It looks somewhat bleak right now but it will soon be green again and it was probably a good thing to have some of the weeds and small bushes (and ticks, Sheila adds!) growing in it burnt.
As for the neighbours, they were rather good-humoured about it and told us stories of when fires had gotten away from them. You can be sure that I was careful for the rest of the day while the fires continued to burn down and kept the hose and full buckets of water with me. The smoldering remains were well soaked before I took a supper break and again just before it got dark.
You can be assured that I will wait until wetter, cooler weather returns before burning any of the remaining brush piles.