Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Well, We Tried....

Not unexpectedly, given how overgrazed it was when we moved in, the back 5 acre pasture needs to be burned. Burning will, at least theoretically, decrease the seed load of undesireable annuals and change them into a nice little burst of fertilizer for the plants that are left.

With pastures on 3 sides of our little plot, first Prairiewolf mowed a 20' wide firebreak on all 4 sides to give us a safety margin. (This photo shows him beginning to mow the firebreak as the smoke from another fire fills the air to the west.) We got a fire permit from our local fire station, then we started religiously watching the upcoming weather forecasts. The wind has to be between 5 and 15 mph, and we'd prefer to have it out of the east, since that would push the fire towards the wheat field on the west, with much less chance that it would accidentally get out of control. Last but certainly not least, without slave labor (i.e. children) at home to help, we have to round up bodies ahead of time to help us keep the fire under control.

All systems looked like they'd be "go" last Saturday morning. We cajoled Prairiewolf's father, cousin, and brother into getting up early to help us, and we set out the water buckets and rounded up the rakes and shovels the night before.

On Saturday, everyone miraculously showed up on time. The winds were behaving just as forecast. We had coffee and muffins to fuel us, then tramped out back to see what we could do.

It wasn't raining, but it was cloudy and there was a mist in the air. Since it hadn't rained for 2 weeks, we thought we'd be okay despite the mist. After all, it wasn't actually raining. We started the backfire and tried to spread it along the edge of the firebreak. It would burn a few feet, then flicker out, despite piles of dead grass raked over from the firebreak mowing. For over an hour we nursed the backfire along, managing to get black earth almost 30' deep at one point, but nothing really carried. (Here is the remnant of our backfire...after the fire had totally gone out.)

So, having little success working against the wind, we decided to switch gears and set the headfire. Surely with the wind, which now seemed to be about 8-10 mph, the flames would become strong enough in the dead grass to move across the pasture reasonably well. By this time, we were pretty sure that too strong a fire wasn't going to be our problem!

However, even moving with the wind, the flames were no match (no pun intended) for the mist, which had moistened the grass just enough to make it resist the fire. Our grand "headfire" sputtered out within 10 feet.

My final photo here is of the valient burn crew, after we'd finally decided that the weather had outsmarted all of our grand plans for the day, posed in front of the blackened remnants of our "grand headfire".

We'll try again as soon as the weather, personal schedules, and extra personpower becomes available. Hopefully, we'll have better luck next time.

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