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Fires of Spring
Drift from a Driftless Place
JOHN GIBBS finished up his western adventures at a Farm-n-Fleet in Las Vegas, browsing the hat section. He'd been on the lookout for a good cowboy hat, and no surprise, he found his dream chapeau in the Wild, Wild West.

GAYS MILLS - My name is John and I like to burn things. Before you call the authorities, hear me out. I usually burn things legally and, for the most part, safely. I think the technical term for my fascination with fire is pyromania, or maybe that describes a problem burner, I’m not sure. Anyway, I have always been attracted to fire when it’s used in  friendly ways, such as grilling, boiling maple syrup, making charcoal, blacksmithing, sitting around a campfire, using a burn barrel for burnable trash, and controlled burns on land.

Spring is the season for fires, controlled fires, that is. It’s a rite of spring here in the Midwest to burn off dead grass in ditches, fence lines, and little corners of property that get overgrown during the previous lush summers. Fire is a great cleanup tool and a dramatic way to wipe the slate  clean and make way for new growth. It may also help keep dreaded ticks in check.

Plus something about fire seems to actually feed the plants, something in that ash, and they always spring back greener than you remember them being. The bright green that fire produces, after seeing the brown (or white) landscape all winter, accentuates the power of fire. 

So I got my fire permit, good for one year, and did a little burning last week. After a couple of attempts, I found the fire fuel, old grass and weeds, to be too damp to really burn well. A couple of warm days with plenty of drying wind solved that problem and I had a couple of successful burns later in the week.  

Among other things, I’m trying to get ahead of a weed problem in a small field along the road. We have an infestation of spotted knapweed which offers a rather pretty pink “wildflower” but is also very aggressive plant. It is an alien and invasive plant and tends to take over. It’s not much good for grazing and is very competitive. We were charmed at first with the pretty field of pink “wildflowers” and now need to take control. “One year’s weeds means seven years’ of seeds” an old rural adage goes, and there were plenty of weed seeds produced last year. Burning is supposed to be a good control for this weed and hopefully the fire killed off many thousands of the seeds that were lying on the surface.

I keep a burn  pile on our place. Blown down tree limbs, scrap lumber (unpainted and not treated) garden refuse, and weeds, all go on the pile until it’s big enough to warrant burning. The burn pile is handy and saves a lot of stuff from going into a landfill.  

Brush piles are also good to burn this time of year. Stuff that’s been cut since last fall or summer, is well dried but somewhat awkward to handle. I start a fire in an open area and then feed it with brush, usually after cutting it up with a lopper or chain saw. It’s a good way to clean up wooded or rough areas before green-up.

If you decide to burn this spring, be safe, enjoy it, and follow the rules on your burning permit.