Tips for Burning Brush Piles Safely

October 10, 2013 — Leave a comment


In all my research I was surprised to learn that the preferred method for disposing of brush is to burn it. Apparently, this method is widely regarded as the most environmentally friendly approach because the fossil fuel required to move the brush creates more impact than burning it. My original plan was to make use of the biomass by shredding it and using it for mulch, but after seeing what a tangled dirt-filled mess a brush pile really is, it struck me as being yet another romantic notion that wouldn’t exactly play out in real life. I really wanted to keep all of the organic good-stuff on my land, but like many things in life, this problem would be best solved with fire… So we began burning brush piles.

If there’s a trick to burning brush I haven’t learned it. We spent two weekends trying to eliminate wood piles at the Ant Farm to almost no avail. While the largest of the piles did burn down pretty far, we’re still left with an enormous stack of half-burned wood that I can’t get to re-ignite. The worst part is that I’ve still got four other giant brush piles that will need to be burned before next Spring.

What’s the trick?

Brush Pile "Where's Waldo"

Where’s Weirdo?

Everybody keeps telling me diesel fuel and old tires, but even if it wasn’t illegal, I can’t see how that would solve the problem. The pile burns down to the point that it’s no longer dense, and then smoulders. I’m afraid that we’re going to have to call in the heavy equipment to re-stack everything, but I’m having a hard time believing that this is the norm.

Using a leaf blower to help a brush pile fire.

A Few Tips for Burning Brush Piles Safely

We did learn a few useful tips along the way, and I made a ridiculous infographic for the heck of it:

4 tips for burning brush piles safely

Tip #1: Contact the local forestry office to determine what the laws are in your area, if there are any burn-bans in effect, and who (if anyone) you’ll need to notify when you begin to burn. Some areas will require a permit to burn, and others won’t. Another beautiful aspect of living in unincorporated St. Clair County, Alabama: no rules for fires under 1/2-acre in size.. I did contact the local Sheriff’s office as a courtesy, though.

Tip #2: A large brush pile burns fast and hot once you get it going. I was shocked at the wind created by the heat from the biggest pile. It created tiny tornadoes of smoke and ash. I’d recommend wetting down the area surrounding the pile as a preventative precaution for burning brush safely. I’m really not sure how you could put a brush pile fire out if it got out of control without one of those giant water-dumping airplanes you see in documentaries, so unless you have one of those, wet everything down.

Tip #3: Use a propane torch to start the fire. You know, the type of torch plumbers use to sweat pipe. Don’t fool around with matches or a cheap clicky lighter.

Tip #4: Once the fire is started, hit it with a leaf blower, it will burn VERY hot. I used an inexpensive electric leaf blower, and I couldn’t believe how hot the fire would burn. The expression “white hot” definitely applies. <–Thanks again for the tip, Septic Tank Lady…




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