Piles of Leaves

Readers of Dakotas Landing know we recently bought 40 acres that joins the National Forrest. This land has not been lived on for 12 years and much of it is forested property. Recently we were on the land working to clear a place that will eventually be our new home. For over a week we raked leaves, mowed prairie grasses, and removed dead trees and limbs that were a fire hazard to our property.

As you would imagine we quickly accumulated piles upon piles of leaves and organic debris. To prevent a fire in the drier months to come we quickly set about control burning all the waste. A control burn is a small manageable fire that a property owner does to rid the land of hazards that could turn into a wild fire.

Burning LeavesWe are so close to many acres of National Forrest, that has fuel ripe for burning, we don't want to take any chances. Control burning is our best option of clearing our land for building, and reducing our risk of an out of control fire. Control Burning is an option for any landowner who wants to safely clear their land and prepare it for use. Starting a fire to prevent a fire isn't as crazy as it sounds if you prepare for control burning in a safe manner.

Land Before ClearingOur first step in control burning was finding an area we could burn in safely. This area needed to be clear of trees, and any leaves or other debris that could catch fire and blow to a surrounding area with the wind. After locating a good spot we set about preparing for the burn. We gathered water, old blankets, and fir branches in case the fire was spread or became more than we could handle. Making sure you are prepared to extinguish a fire is one of the first steps to starting one.

Our Control BurnThe single most important tool we used during our control burning was a piece of metal mesh wire. This wire also known as hog wire, or cattle panel, and it was placed over the fire and anchored to the ground. Using the wire like this was a great asset. We could easily start the fires through the holes, and embers from the fire were contained. We left an opening similar to a feed chute in the front so that we could continue to feed the fire with leaves and underbrush.

We burned on a very windy day even though it wasn't windy when we started. We didn't have any problems containing the fire to our designated burning area. As a property owner the fear of fire spreading is a great motivator to do things the right way.

We were safely able to burn much of the debris on our property using this method:

  • Remove all the debris in a 3 foot path around the area you will burn in.

  • Use metal wire mesh bigger than the fire you plan to set.

  • Anchor the wire with rocks so that it will not blow away in a strong wind.

  • Use a fireplace lighter to light the fire through the holes in the metal mesh.

  • As the fire begins to burn down feed more of the debris to be burnt.

 Feeding the FireAs the night went on we began to uncover the fire when it would burn low. We would feed the fire by shoveling the leaves and underbrush on to the embers as if we were going to extinguish the control burn. The embers would smoke a bit and begin to blaze within a few minutes. This gave us an ample amount of time to replace the wire mesh and clean the fire break area again.

Control burning has been performed for 1,000's of years. It is an optimal way to manage forested land, and encourage new growth. Some seeds can only grow after a fire has broken down the seed coating. The ashes from a control burn are a great source of potassium and is used in many farming and horticulture applications. In the coming weeks we will till up land for a garden and spread the ashes to encourage fertile soil.