Preventing Fires On The Homestead
Fire danger increases in winter, which is also a good time to mitigate any fire dangers
By Eric Witter
Starting a fire is a huge responsibility. You could burn friends or family members. Your property or your neighbor’s property could be damaged or destroyed. In addition, violating local burning regulations can be very costly. A close friend of mine almost got a $10,000 fine when a fire got out of control.
I have burned of many piles of brush up to about 30 feet across and have learned the following techniques and concepts that I have found helpful. All of the burning that I have done has been in the southeastern part of the United States.
PREPARATION FOR THE BURN
I always secure a burn permit if required. I like to burn when the wind is not blowing strongly. I also give consideration to the relative moisture of the area surrounding the site of the fire. Waiting about seven to 10 days after a rain works well. Beyond two weeks of continuous dry weather can create very dry and dangerous conditions. When it is that dry just a tiny spark can ignite dry leaves. If the site of the fire is surrounded with dry leaves such as in a forest, rake the leaves back so that the ground is bare around the site, thus creating a firebreak. A firebreak two to three feet wide usually works well. If the site of the fire is in a field of dry grass, I would mow around the site and rake it if necessary to create the firebreak. Before starting a fire is when I like to gather the needed fire suppression equipment: rake, mower if needed, garden hose and nozzle, or garden sprayer. Once the equipment is ready I can then prepare to light the fire.
A garden hose is one of the most effective measures for keeping control of a burning pile of limbs or debris. With a hose I can just keep watch for any unwanted spreading of the fire and spray it down. Sometime sparks can travel 20 feet and catch fire where they land, so I continuously scan the surrounding area. If a garden hose is not available I use a garden sprayer filled with water. Just a few gallons can do a lot to control a fire that is moving away from the fire site. If I only have a rake, I use it to rake an area two or three feet wide around the escaping fire to create a firebreak that will contain the fire, but I do the raking far enough away from the fire so that I do not suffer from the heat or smoke. In an area of dry grass I would mow a swath around the escaping fire, again keeping back from the heat and smoke. If the grass was very tall I may need to rake it after the mowing. Note that these fire-suppression techniques enable me to keep back from the intense heat and smoke. Fighting the flames directly is best reserved for putting out small spots of fire, like a few square inches.
Several things can be done to reduce the risk of fire on the homestead. Various fire-proof building techniques can be implemented. Metal roofs are great for anyone with a wood stove or fireplace. They are also great if a forest fire could sweep through your area. Metal siding is also inhibitive. Block and brick buildings can be utilized. Keep a grassy lawn around buildings. Maintain firebreaks across your property as needed. Have a water system that is robust enough for fire emergencies. Keep plenty of garden hose around. Just 300 feet of garden hose around would have saved a dear friend from a disaster! It is a cheap and efficient measure of protection. For instance I can reach any part of my three acres with 600 feet of garden hose. That would be about $250 of hose. It really is not that big a price compared to the infrastructure that could be saved from a fire.
Long live your homestead!