calling all firebugs.

Internets, I have a conundrum.

See, we invited friends over this coming weekend to finally burn the huge brush pile in our backyard.  The plan is to light the fire, and then stand around and do s’mores and beverages and stuff, using the fire as an excuse for some socializing.

The problem is that the brush pile in question looks like this right now:

It’s about six feet tall and fifteen-ish feet wide at the base.  It’s also surrounded by snow that’s two feet high, and covered by a few inches of it on top of that.

How do I light this sucker and burn it up without resorting to methods that would get the local fire department on my ass?  Somebody suggested the old “tire filled with kerosene” method, but that’s sort of frowned upon by the authorities.  I tried to burn it a few weeks ago, but the five gallons of diesel I used merely burned off some leaves.  I was planning on taking some big, dry cardboard boxes, filling them with newspaper, soaking them in kerosene or diesel, and then placing them in select spots underneath the pile.

Anyone else have a better (and preferably legal) idea?


53 thoughts on “calling all firebugs.

  1. ZerCool says:

    Scrounge up a few #10 tin cans. A quart or two of kerosene and a big rag for a wick. Stuff in and under.

    I don’t like using cardboard because it makes lots of floaty embers.

  2. alan says:

    Until you get that snow off the pile any heat from an accelerant will go to turning water into steam instead of burning wood.

    If you want to treat it as a math problem, figure the volume of snow then calculate the BTUs needed to turn that snow into vapor. That will give you an idea of how much accelerant to use.

    Or wait for Spring.

  3. Paul says:

    do you have a high power leaf blower? blow the snow off and out and then use the blower with an extension tube to get oxygen down and under the fire

  4. MadRocketScientist says:

    Use a fuel that burns hot & slow, like trioxane, or wax & wood chips/saw dust mixed together, or cotton soaked in vaseline

  5. Vinnie says:

    Dig underneath of the pile and put a couple of presto logs under it.

  6. farmist says:

    I recommend a torch such as this:

    You can probably find something similar locally for less $$

  7. eli says:

    Just toss a lit cigarette butt in there and then walk away.

  8. gator says:

    Squirt some water on it now and melt the snow away. That’ll give it a couple of days to dry out before you try to light it and won’t waste so much heat making steam.

  9. Tennessee Budd says:

    Legal? You moved up there from TN & now you’re worried about legality? What happened?

  10. I would think an F-18 would do nicely. It’s over before anyone even knows what happened.

  11. guy says:

    Big bag of charcoal in the center of the pile?

    Wouldn’t make a big cloud of black smoke anyway.

  12. Anon says:

    Couple hundred rounds of Dragon’s Breath?

    Added bonus is how well that’ll go with the leafblower and a few martinis.


  13. FatBob79 says:

    2nd on the leafblower to really get the coals started fast… especially the extension! I might suggest a length of aluminum raingutter downspout. Otherwise the heat will melt the end of your leafblower!

    Speaking of heat… your pile is fifteen feet wide?! I’m assuming one of you has a fire proximity suit? That, or you’ve got a 10 foot long marshmallow stick!

  14. The Other Jay says:

    Soak 2 coffee cans of your stove pellets in lamp oil.
    Carry cans full of pellets and oil to the pile.
    Lift the edge of the pile with your spud bar.
    Have CINC-House shove the cans under the edge you just lifted.
    Wrap one rag around the end of one stick. Soak in remaining lamp oil or in charcoal lighter fluid or diesel fuel.
    Light the torch you just made with whatever is handy.
    Shove down through pile into can(s) full of pellets and oil.
    Melting snow will not put out the oil fire until the pile above the flame is hot enough to ignite, then the fire should spread on its own.

  15. Nat says:

    As others said you have to get the snow off. I’d guess that shoveling as much as you can, then covering with a black tarp on sunny days to get it melting (and keeping it covered when it snows to make it easier to clean off) will get you most of the way there. Then extensive use of accelerants and fuel sources should do the trick. You might also try snow blowing a path around the brush pile to help airflow into the bottom of the burn pile.

  16. perlhaqr says:

    How long has the brush pile been cut? If they’re this year’s trimmings, they might still be too wet (inside) to burn properly, no matter what you do.

  17. Jay G. says:

    I’ll be right over. Move anything you don’t want burned to a safe zone (like a ¼ mile).

    Oh, and have on running shoes.

  18. The Other Jay says:

    Solution #2…
    Purchase one 5lb piece of magnesium bar-stock from your local supply house and/or machine shop. (If machine shop, ask if they have shavings too.)
    If no shavings are available, carefully chisel a small pile into a shallow can.
    Carry magnesium bar, can of shavings, and propane torch and one Class D dry chemical fire extinguisher to the edge of the pile.
    Put on welding goggles and/or the darkest sunglasses you own.
    Use propane torch (1400-1900 degrees C) to ignite shavings.
    DO NOT LOOK AT THE BURNING SHAVINGS. Burning magnesium creates a strong blue-white light with a strong ultraviolet component that can easily cause permanent retinal damage.
    Thrust end of magnesium bar into burning shavings (3100 degrees C).
    When bar ignites, DO NOT LOOK AT THE BURNING BAR.
    QUICKLY shove burning bar under pile.
    Stand back.
    Continue to not look directly at the magnesium fire.
    Burning magnesium reacts strongly with water, frequently reducing water into hydrogen and oxygen gasses, which then happily facilitate further combustion.
    After the magnesium burns out, invite friends and family out to the nice bonfire.

    • bluntobject says:

      Metal fires FTW. Since we’re slightly off from practical, you could always use the magnesium to start a load of thermite.

      • The Other Jay says:

        Thermite doesn’t burn as hot (2500 deg C) as magnesium, and the melting snow on the brush pile would have a good shot at lowering the temperature of the thermite pile enough to allow the meltwater to quench the fire.
        Also, going into your local hardware store and asking for 5 lbs of thermite mix will likely trip a call to some persons of authority.
        Free the Whales.

        • Kaerius says:

          Well, anyone who has watched mythbusters knows thermite has interesting reactions with ice… *kaboom*

          How about an attempt to reproduce greek fire?

  19. abnormalist says:

    sure fire boring practical way to go?
    bag of charcoal dropped on and around a few presto logs. Light with torch. These will burn hot enough, long enough to get things rolling nicely

    buy a few thousand sparklers. Separate the good stuff from the wires. But in a decent sized bucket (doesn’t matter what type you ain’t getting it back) stick two or three sparklers still on the wire together and put them in the middle for a fuse. Light and step back. When it ignites its like Zeus touched the earth.

    Once it gets going full steam it can and will separate H2O into its parent molecules and they burn quite nicely as well. I haven’t found much you cant burn with a few thousand piece sparkler bomb.

    For best effect powder the aluminum/oxidizer mix from the sparklers with a mortar and pestal. The finer you have it, the hotter and faster it burns

  20. ASM826 says:

    +1 for getting the snow around it blown back, then as much off the top as possible.

    Then get up underneath it and get a good fire going, dry logs up to wood stove size and you should be able to get the larger pile going. The accelerators mentioned will make a big flame for a short while, but if there is not a healthy core fire being fed at the bottom, the rest of it will just go out. Also, it’s likely legal to burn firewood, whereas burning tires, maybe not so much.

  21. Sigivald says:

    Try asking the Fire Marshal?

    Since you don’t want to upset him, you can kill two birds with one stone.

  22. og says:

    I’d go leafblower and then build a small fire on a little “raft” of dry wood on top and as close to the middle as you can get. Once that’s going well, just let it burn it’s way down in. it should vaporize the snow ahead of it.

    Note that the liklihood of some critter living in there is great. Personally, i won’t kill anything I’m not eating unless it’s a potentially dangerous varmint. Chasing out rabbits/cats etc. with a leafblower is fine, so long as they have someplace to go, or are destined for the dinner table.

  23. The method approved by Purdue University involves liquid oxygen and a smoldering cigarette. This has been proven to be the fastest way to light off a charcoal grill and I assume it would work for your brush pile.

  24. Martini says:

    I’m a little disappointed with y’all. It took almost twenty comments to get to magnesium and thermite.

    • The Other Jay says:

      Yeah. I was stuck doing year-end performance appraisals for most of the day. Sorry for the delay.

  25. T.Stahl says:

    Taschenbuch für Wehrpflichtige, Ausg. 1962, Kap. F55


    1. Die Brandflasche (Molotowcocktail) wird aus einer Flasche beliebiger Größe hergestellt. Sie wird mit 2/3 Kraftstoff und 1/3 Flammöl gefüllt und gut verschlossen. Dann werden mit Klebeband oder Bindfaden zwei Sturmstreichhölzer an der Flasche befestigt. Sind Sturmstreichhölzer nicht vorhanden, so kann die Flasche auch mit Gewehrreinigungsdochten oder anderem leicht brennbarem Material, z.B. Stoffresten verschlossen werden.

    Vor dem Werfen werden die Sturmstreichhölzer oder Dochte angezündet und dann gegen den Feindpanzer geworfen. Geworfen wird, entweder, indem die Flasche am Flaschenhals erfaßt wird oder am Schwerpunkt. Die Sturmstreichhölzer sind entsprechend anzubringen. …

  26. Phssthpok says:

    All of these suggestions for ignition sources are well and good, but I don’t see anyone taking into account the density of the fuel stock. Having some experience with burning slash piles such as the one pictured I can say without hesitation that the biggest hurdle is establishing a self sustaining heat source in the core…too much open space among the branches (as evidenced by 5 gallons of diesel doing nothing but burning off some leaves).

    Unfortunately the only way around this conundrum involves some manual labor (read: tearing down the pile at least partially to access the core). Once you have accessed the core (or close enough to it for your purposes) you begin building your typical boyscout ‘one match fire’ (OMF). Tee-pee, or log cabin…makes no difference so long as it’s done properly. (hint: if it takes you less than 20 minutes, you’re not doing it right)

    In this instance I’m in favor of a ‘log cabin’ with a #10 tin filled with your favored conflagrant (I’m partial to used motor oil…you DO perform your own oil changes, yes?) sitting pretty in the middle. Don’t plan on recovering this tin…it will be a heap of ash by the end of the evening.

    Bonus points for enlisting (conscripting?) the assistance of your younglings to reduce a portion of the pile which has been removed down to smaller pieces, such that they may be more densely packed around the ‘OMF’ core you are constructing. (They are old enough to safely utilize some ‘loppers’, yes?)

    Now would be a great time to get rid of any extra black stuff (motor oil) you have left. Pour a few quarts of it all over your ‘OMF’ core. It won’t evaporate, and burns nice and slow once ignited. Then you can reconstruct the brush pile over your ‘OMF’ core if you so choose. Personally, I’d leave it exposed and let the rest of the brush pile act as a reflector as you enjoy the pyre, pushing extra fuel in from the backside as needed throughout the evening.

    A small splash of Gasoline on the ‘OMF’ with a trail leading to a point 5-10 feet away provides a satisfying ‘WHUMP’ when met with flame.


  27. Just an addendum to P’pok’s suggestion. I use a gas/used motor oil mix in the ratio of 1:8 or so- easy enough to light & burns steadily.

    I still like the magnesium idea best, though.

  28. Chris says:

    Get snow off pile.
    Cut contents of pile into smaller pieces.
    Stack contents of pile differently.
    Use road flares to light off.

  29. Cargosquid says:

    What? No flamethrower?

  30. Eric says:

    We used to light ours off with a mixture of vaseline, styrofoam and diesel. Kind of a sticky fuel but it worked well.

    We lived WAAAAAAAYYYYYYY out in the country so we didn’t have a problem with neighbors complaining or anything like that though.

  31. Kristopher says:

    Out here in the great NorthWet, we cover such slashpiles in fall with cheap black plastic tarps.

    It keeps the fuel dry.

    Then pull the tarp in early spring ( while it is still good and wet outside ) and burn it.

    I suggest postponing the event until next year, and doing it right.

  32. Shootin' Buddy says:

    At Winter Wolf Camp during Boy Scouts we would use bags of sawdust.

    In your situation, maybe 3, cut them open and sprinkle one around the pile.

  33. Fred2 says:

    Yeah, toss/tip the pile to get the snow to mostly fall off or to the bottom.

    Forget the blower, pretty sure good packed NH snow will allow the outer layer to blow off and laugh at the blower. Besides its loud, useless at the start and pointless at the end.

    Dig into the pile on the upwind side create a nice sheltered spot and build a small bon-fire. Once the bonfire is going start giving it more fuel until the pile catches.

    I second the reco that says “cover the brush pile inthe fall” It doesn’t even have to be a decent tarp, just enough to keep the snow and ice from penetrating the whole thing.

  34. Allan says:

    Speaking as a local fire warden in Vt., my standard recommendation is to get a full bale of hay placed under the pile (not so easy but do-able with a chainsaw and long pry bar) and pour 3 gallons of diesel or kerosene into the bale. Light and enjoy.

  35. Chuck says:

    When I was in the Scouts(you know we were all firebugs), we used to make firecans. Take 1 No. 10 tin can, dump in one package of unflavored gelatin(we used Sure-Gel, this has the added benifit of, if it drips it sticks and still burns), fill the can halfway with kerosene, mix with stick, place in one roll cheap toilet paper till soaked, take roll out and turn over and put back in to thouroughly soak, fill can to about two inches from top with kerosene. Light firecan. Burns for about 5 hours, hard as heck to accidently put out.

  36. Chas Clifton says:

    I live in wooded country where people need to burn slash all the time. I second the advice to cover it and wait until some warmer early but still damp spring weather comes.

    And speaking as a volunteer firefighter, do call the sheriff or fire marshal and let ’em know that you are just burning a slash pile.

  37. OrangeNeck says:

    Molotov cocktails.

  38. Todd Holden says:

    just leave it, all manner of little critters, rabbits, birds and who knows what can live and thrive in a brush pile like yours. Each year the pile becomes smaller and smaller until it’s nearly flat from decomposition, rain and sunlight. These little ‘user friendly’ habitats are beneficial to the overall flora and fauna of your property.

  39. Ancient Woodsman says:

    The state does not require a permit when the ground is covered with snow (RSA 227-L:17) but the town may still require notification that you are doing so (various parts of RSA 154). And for Tennessee Bud’s comment? Marko wonders aloud here as some who have regulatory authority in such matters do read this blog. The Fire Marshal has no regulatory authority in regards to open burning, but the state Division of Forests & Lands, state Department of Environmental Services, town fire chief, and town Forest Fire Warden do.

    If you cannot get that pile burning with some of the suggestions here, over in Canaan the fire chief is very creative about such things – he’s also the town Forest Fire Warden – and if he doesn’t already have a drip torch he can borrow mine. He’s got my number.

  40. carbonblack says:

    One gallon milk jugs filled with diesel.
    Road flares.
    22 rifle

    Place road flares at bottom of pile in strategic locations.
    Place milk jugs with fuel above the road flare at least a foot or two.

    Light off road flare.

    If safe, shoot milk jugs with rifle. If rimfire is too much, (AND NOT SAFE) a good pellet gun will have the same effect.


  41. TBeck says:

    Styrofoam or soap flakes (NOT detergent!) Dissolved in gasoline gels it nicely without needing a double boiler.

  42. Pete says:

    Looks like you’re starting off a little behind the power curve here. Back when I was a logger in the Pacific NorthWet, we would pile the brush in the sommer and cover it with black plastic sheet. Come the winter, the brush underneith would be bone dry and ready to burn. A gas powered leaf blower helps as well… but wet wood won’t burn.


  43. TXGunGeek says:

    Marko, for the VFD we use railroad flares as a starter. 30 minute fusees give enough burn time to get heat into the fuel (tinder) enough to ignite it on it’s own. Done this with wet piles but we don’t get too much snow down here in Texas so maybe you need something extra. Flares are very safe though as they are not potentially explosive like liquid fuels.

  44. ditto says:

    We use a leaf blower to move light snow.
    I typically use a small amount of gasoline to start a brush pile. Old newspaper or magazines to bring the heat up. I also keep a propane torch on to help get things hot enough to actually start on fire.

    Hope everyone stays sober enough to not fall in. It has been a hazard in the past.

Comments are closed.