It’s been a while since I threw a fire, and it is long overdue. The last couple of years have been far too dry for any large bonfires and considering there are families with homes within wildfire range of me, I’m not inclined to explain why I burned someone’s house down. I love fire but I do not trust it. It’s a lot like being married to a redhead when it gets down to it. But fire and I have been together for quite some time and I have never had a flame escape me, at least not to the point it damaged something. I’m been accused to being over cautious but I have seen the power and fury and I will not be accused of unleashing it without due cause.
There has to be an admission of planning or the lack of therein. I really didn’t think I could get a permit, and when I did I thought I better start before they realized the wind was going to pick up a bit today. Nothing serious, mind you, but I could tell about noon it was going to get interesting but by noon I should be nearly done. A nice tame fire can sit there and do exactly what you want it to do and it seems to like you but add some wind to it and suddenly you’re dealing with a five hundred pound dog pulling at a kite string leash. Dare it to kill you if you want to, but I rather not.
This fire is different than most because there isn’t much small stuff for me to get started first, and I am not sure I have the time to coax it. There is some very old limbs that I’ve dragged out from under the Oak tree just east of the house, and there is a limb that fell two days ago, and then there is the stuff from the top of two trees that fell a couple of months ago, and then there is the brand new stuff that fell out of the Eastern Oak yesterday. The new stuff worries me because it will be hard to burn. Some of the old stuff worries me because it will be hard to burn, too. There is too much green wood and too much rotten wood for me to feel good about this fire.
But fire is fire. Heat anything to a certain point and it will burn, melt, evaporate or explode. Wood will burn. All wood will burn if it is heated to a certain point. I build a platform out of small sticks and paper. Each level of the platform is supported by larger stuff which is supported by even larger pieces of wood. I light the bottom of the pile and the paper curls with flame, and the fire climbs, eats, and it grows.
I never use gasoline in a fire. Accelerants are for amateurs and fools. This is a fire based on the skill of a Firesmith, and I can bring the fire forth with what fuel I have and a single wooden match. The paper burns, the fire eats small sticks and it very feebly stands up and reaches towards the sky, burping smoke and the larger wood is its crib, keeping it from growing larger, for now, and I have a fire. I feed it small stuff, a handful of leaves and debris that is not entirely dry and the fire feeds. Snap! Crackle! Pop! The leaves are devoured for breakfast and the smaller sticks begin to fall to the center of the fire, their coals glowing red. This is the basis of the fire, the heart, red orange and pumping energy into the blaze. The fire gets going and I finally hear its voice. The breath is going in as the heat goes out. There is a sound, a low song of fire, the engine tuned and running now. This is the oxygen for the fire rushing in and it makes its own breath. I can throw in the big stuff now.
There is a large round piece that would require splitting before going into a fireplace and I roll it over to the fire and flip it in. I am delighted it stands up perfectly straight. There is another piece that is large and twisty. I toss it in and it lands on top of the standing piece. These are good omens, yes. There is a piece far too large for me to pick up. It once held two massive limbs but I can flip and roll it into the fire. It too lands perfectly, and the large pieces are now beginning to burn. These are pieces from the tree tops that fell and crushed the old dog kennel. They aren’t really dry enough to burn well, but they burn well enough to generate true heat.
The green stuff that fell recently is no match for the fire. The larger pieces go on top and the water inside turns to steam cracking the wood and whistling as it leaves. There is still green foliage on some of the pieces but they curl and smolder and burst into flames instantly. The older stuff that is just mush smokes, steams, and then burns. This is a fire able now to take whatever I throw in, and everything must get past the flame stage before the wind gets here.
This is a much different fire than any of those before. I’m using this one to clear an area around the firepit. The clear zone is much further away than with most fires and I’m counting on it creeping out and burning things outside the pile. A clump of dog fennel smolders then goes up in flame. Vines wither and smoke as they burn. I toss in the large stuff and rake up what I can around the fire. This is a hot one. This is the fire I wanted to start and it feels good to experience that sort of heat again. This is one of my better fires. I like the way it drives me back from it, daring me to come too close and I like the way it creeps towards those places I want it to clear. But I have much stuff to toss in, and there is more of it than there is of me.
Exhaustion sets in before I get everything burning but I must finish. I have to clear as much as I can to keep Lucas safe. Sam and Lucas dig in nearby, building bunkers in the places I’ve cleared. This fire frightens them. It’s a little bigger than most they have seen, and all the land clearing is new. I push the stump of a dead tree in and realize I have to stop if this fire is going to burn out before nightfall. I pull up a chair and watch the fire. The larger pieces are now all at the bottom, and all of them are totally charred and glowing orange. Everything, old and new, mush and green, has been devoured by this fire and now that everything has been tossed in that can be, the fire begins to very slowly die.
Each fire begins new and each of them ends differently. The east side of the fire is where the wind comes in, and the smoke heads west. The heat goes with it, and so everything on the western side of the pile burns more quickly. Chunks of wood I could not possibly lift, those I carted in on a sled and rollers, shrink and melt away like ice sculptures in the desert. A few pieces remain at lunch, but the wind isn’t taking sparks or cinders away. The danger is largely passed and I can break for lunch. When I come back the fire is beginning to get to the stage there is no open flame. The wind is now fanning the embers and by the end of the day, nothing but ash remains of this fire.