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OT: Winter Brush Burning

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  • OT: Winter Brush Burning

    No machining content here, but I expect some of you are experts at destroying things by fire. I'm having no luck burning several large brush piles (large = 10' diameter, 6' high). Mostly birch, poplar, and maple branches too small for firewood. The piles have been sitting in a field for several years waiting for me to get around to burning them. But I can't get them to burn.

    The temperatures have been between 35 and 15 degrees. There's no snow on ground, but the ground is frozen. I've tried more and more violent means of igniting the piles, including dumping 5 gallons of diesel into the middle of the pile, and providing forced draft with a leaf blower. No joy. Even when I manage to get a good bed of coals going in one spot, material only a few inches away won't catch. When I stop using fuel and the blower, the fire goes out. I'm not even close to getting a self-sustaining fire.

    I worried a fair amount beforehand about being able to put the fires out, but it never occurred to me I wouldn't be able to get them started. Suggestions?

  • #2
    I burn a couple times every year. Never had to use 5gallons of diesel, maybe a quart or so? If the wood is fairly dry, it should burn. The only thing I can think of, if the pile is not "tight", it may fizzle out. Do you have a way to compress the wood together, mash it down with something?

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    • #3
      Condense or compact the pile and get a dark colored tarp and cover them for a few weeks. Leave a space at the bottom to allow the air to move in and out. Then use your old diesel and maybe add an old board or two. Keep stuffing the pile into the fire once it is going good and the diesel all burned out.

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      • #4
        Went through almost the same scenario about this time last year at a friends place. We finally got it going with a fairly large amount of some very dry old lumber/dunnage and the help of good breeze. Once it got good and hot it was self sustaining for the rest of the day.

        The problem is that the wood has been exposed to a lot of water for a long time. Once this water, given sufficient heat and time, is removed, the fire will burn the way you want.
        You can either supply the required BTUs or wait and let mother nature do it for you. A few weeks in the sun and wind is far more effective and cheaper than a drum of diesel.
        Time is your fiend.
        Home, down in the valley behind the Red Angus
        Bad Decisions Make Good Stories​

        Location: British Columbia

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        • #5
          If you have access to a front end loader, push in into a taller pile. Once you get the bottom burning the top will follow. I have burned many tree tops and brush this way.

          Brian
          OPEN EYES, OPEN EARS, OPEN MIND

          THINK HARDER

          BETTER TO HAVE TOOLS YOU DON'T NEED THAN TO NEED TOOLS YOU DON'T HAVE

          MY NAME IS BRIAN AND I AM A TOOLOHOLIC

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          • #6
            EVERYONE will have an idea! My favorite method is to build the pile around an old tire with some waste oil inside.
            Duffy, Gatineau, Quebec

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            • #7
              So much for the environment----I always used a couple of old rubber tires. You will find it almost impossible to burn an old brush pile. Start the tires burning beside it and then pull stuff off the existing pile and set it on top of the burning tires. Works every time.
              Brian Rupnow

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              • #8
                Mix oil and gas 50/50. This will provide a mixture you can safely ignite and the flame front travels slowly, without enough gasoline vapor to cause big 'POOF' style explosions. Try more oil to start with, add more gas if you can't get it to ignite (due to extreme cold most likely), more oil if you are safety concerned.. Need some newspaper with some of the mixture really burning and flames touching other wood soaked in the mixture to get it to spread. Try out a small amount first to see how it acts. Grandpa showed me this mixture and its really a LOT better then pure gasoline.

                The mixture also sticks nicely to things and can be poured on a lit fire without much hazard of the flame traveling back to your cup, or big poofs as you throw it on.. Never tried diesel fuel.

                Pure gasoline soaks into the ground and evaporates too fast to be of any use, and is EXTREMELY unsafe to throw on a lit fire, or light more then 10 or so seconds after pouring it on a pile of wood due to vapor buildup causing explosion.

                Another trick of mine was filling a beer bottle or can with gas, surrounding with newspaper and lighting it. eventually the gas boils and makes a nice 1~3' long flame out the nozzle. Not very safe if using glass as can shatter, OK with cans. Lasts for 10+ minutes as the gas can't just soak into the ground.

                Others have good points, dry the pile out, compact it, etc. You might also consider opening an 'airway' into the core of the pile to help it breath while burning.

                Often it helps to start a small fire, THEN add wood. adding wood after it starts can let you prevent smothering the fires oxygen supply and not excessively cooling it with damp wood.

                In my pyro days, a leaf blower or lawnmower (Grass chute exhaust) made a wonderful air source to get stubborn fires just ROARING away. Like turning a fire that goes out by itself into one that is nearly out of control.

                Failing that, the exhaust hose from a shopvac worked well too. Best of all was a squirrel cage fan. Would make a nice 'beam' of air that went out 10' from the fan easily.
                Play Brutal Nature, Black Moons free to play highly realistic voxel sandbox game.

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                • #9
                  I started a big brushpile on fire one time in the 1970's when I was cleaning up the back lot on a house I had built. The fire burned for about half an hour and then went out. No problem--I was going to be burning again in two or three days, and I'd get it then. Fast forward three days, and I have built a couple more new piles of green brush, and poured some gas/oil mix on them to get them started. They were burning like hell, and I had about 1 gallon left in a two gallon can, so I went over to the brushpile that had gone out, climbed up on it and started to pour the rest of the gas on it to relight it. Surprise!!!---It wasn't quite as out as I had thought, and suddenly I'm standing on top of the towering inferno. The gas can was a new one and I didn't want to lose it, so I jumped down off the burning pile, but now the gas in the can was on fire. Wife is running around screeching like a banshee, and I'm hanging onto the can, spinning around in a circle to keep the burning gas fumes roaring out of the top of the can away from me. Wife is screaming "Throw the can,, Throw the can, THROW THE EFING CAN!!!" Finally I realize that the fire in the can isn't going out no matter how fast I spin around, so I threw the can. Fortunately (I think) the can missed the wife, soared through the air, then hit the ground and although it didn't explode my new can was toast. Had to go have a cold beer and grow some new eyebrows after that one!!!---Brian
                  Brian Rupnow

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by brian Rupnow View Post
                    I started a big brushpile on fire one time in the 1970's when I was cleaning up the back lot on a house I had built. The fire burned for about half an hour and then went out. No problem--I was going to be burning again in two or three days, and I'd get it then. Fast forward three days, and I have built a couple more new piles of green brush, and poured some gas/oil mix on them to get them started. They were burning like hell, and I had about 1 gallon left in a two gallon can, so I went over to the brushpile that had gone out, climbed up on it and started to pour the rest of the gas on it to relight it. Surprise!!!---It wasn't quite as out as I had thought, and suddenly I'm standing on top of the towering inferno. The gas can was a new one and I didn't want to lose it, so I jumped down off the burning pile, but now the gas in the can was on fire. Wife is running around screeching like a banshee, and I'm hanging onto the can, spinning around in a circle to keep the burning gas fumes roaring out of the top of the can away from me. Wife is screaming "Throw the can,, Throw the can, THROW THE EFING CAN!!!" Finally I realize that the fire in the can isn't going out no matter how fast I spin around, so I threw the can. Fortunately (I think) the can missed the wife, soared through the air, then hit the ground and although it didn't explode my new can was toast. Had to go have a cold beer and grow some new eyebrows after that one!!!---Brian
                    Yes, Please for the love of god don't pour pure gasoline on anything that might be remotely lit.

                    Whenever I do gasoline on a fire, its always a strict procedure of fill a small tin can or some other sacrificial container 30'+ away from the fire site.

                    I VERY correctly assume that any container full of gasoline placed within 30' of a fire, is going to be ignited sooner or later and will NOT be able to be put out. Hence I use an empty beer can (with the top cut off) or soup can or any other kind of container I don't mind throwing right into the fire pit if it should catch fire, AND the entire contents of the can are to be thrown on the fire.

                    If your container has more gasoline then you can safely throw onto a raging fire, don't bring it within 30' of the fire! And 30' I would say is still rather close. I preferred my gas cans more like 50' away.

                    And again, Pure gasoline is just RISKY RISKY RISKY. Fume buildup and ignition can cause huge fireballs. Cut your gasoline with used oil and it becomes MUCH longer burning and MUCH safer.
                    Play Brutal Nature, Black Moons free to play highly realistic voxel sandbox game.

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                    • #11
                      Old rags soaked in kerosene will work a treat.

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                      • #12
                        With the help of another 4 yr old friend, I started a brush pile on fire. The fire dept came and put it out, saving both of our places. We learned something about fire from the adults then-

                        Regarding the frozen conditions- it's quite likely that a frozen brush pile will be insulating itself to a good extent, making it take longer to melt than outside temperatures might seem able to do. Before moisture can be evaporated to allow the stuff to burn, the ice would have to be brought up to melting temperatures. Considerable heating could be required just to get it to that point.
                        I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-

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                        • #13
                          The core of your stack is probably composted quite a bit and also wet. You could put a kerosene drip on it that will keep it lit long enough to dry out the core to where it will burn. Else drag the bottom out from under it with a chain or mix it with a backhoe.

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                          • #14
                            Forget diesel etc... for "wet" pile.

                            I've started piles ("huge" is better) of wet PNW branches multiple times a year for 25 years with one simple method. I stuff a propane 500,000 btu weed burner under the pile. Anything will burn given enough energy and enough time - 10-30 minutes. Then... backpack blower on fast idle. Don't start it until you have ALL your debris on one "vertical" pile.

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                            • #15
                              As a more "green" alternative, mix the brush with cow or horse poop, and let it moulder into compost. Cover it with a tarp to control moisture content. The center can get hot enough for it to catch fire, so it needs to be turned and mixed once in a while.
                              http://pauleschoen.com/pix/PM08_P76_P54.png
                              Paul , P S Technology, Inc. and MrTibbs
                              USA Maryland 21030

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