Monday, December 1, 2008

Controlled Burn

For months, no make that over a year, I've been hearing about famous burns on the farm. It's part of the prairie restoration Tim and Steve are trying to accomplish on many acres of the land. Last year I was promised a burn, but conditions never got exactly right. And this year, Steve sprayed a lot of Roundup to kill weeds and grass-- the DNR spotted the large dead area on aerial photos while out looking to see if people were disturbing wetlands. They sent us a threatening letter and folloewd up with a visit by an agent who saw what we were up to and all was fine. The Roundup was sprayed shortly before the wedding in July. Since then I've waited for the burn.

Finally Saturday the conditions seemed to be right. Everything was dead and dry, and there was no wind. Tim went and got a burn permit from Andy Loso, the local fire warden. One problem was that the burn permit wasn't until 5 p.m., when whatever wind there was (and there wasn't any) would definitely be down. But Tim and Steve were still worried that the fire might burn too hot and so they filled the water wagon with 600 gallons and even sprayed water on the perimeter burn lines, which were mowed that afternoon, to make sure the fire wouldn't go beyond the area marked out.

At 5 p.m. it was almost dark. And it was very cold. Our friends the Ebels came and brought their six children. They come over at any suggestion of fire, and who wouldn't. I thought I'd watch from inside until it got going because it was so cold outside, and I was looking forward to it passing in front of the big living room windows. I was also looking forward to so much black, scorched earth the next day and skating on the pond in the middle of it. I'm surprised to hear myself say that, after spending three years in Southern California and two years before that in Reno and seeing what damage fire can do. For those five years I feared fires. I remember going to a bonfire at my parents' neighbor's house when I was home on vacation and being the only one who was nervous. It was the middle of summer and they were burning the boards from an old shed they'd torn down. There was no hose at the ready or any precautions whatsoever to control the fire. Still, no one was worried. And nothing happened. Out here on the farm fire is our friend, still restorative, and still pretty easily controlled.

The fire Saturday night was a complete bust. It started well, as the picture above shows, along the perimeter of the pond. Steve and Tim used rakes to try to spread it. But either the cold air was too full of moisture or the frozen ground was, because it just wouldn't catch and spread. The dry grass went up and out. I did go down and take some photos of the Ebel children playing in the fire. They stood and bent the grass, trying to get it to catch. The picures turned out pretty interesting. In the end Steve and Tim poured the 600 gallons of water from the wagon out on the pond, adding another nice layer to the ice. We skated on Sunday, but it would have been even better to skate with black earth all around.

There will be other seasons. And someday I'll get to see a real burn out here.

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