In my county, in southern Colorado, everyone bushhogs, mitigates, or otherwise mounds up huge piles of wood (brush, logs, "trash trees", etc.) ... and then ... they burn it!
the two biggest "firestarters" we see in our area ...
As a vol. firefighter, the two biggest "firestarters" we see in our area ... are:
- lightning: tree strikes, thunderstorms that rain on a small area but throw bolts miles away on a dry area, and so on
- idiots: unfortunately, there are way too many idiot methods to list them all ... suffice to say that this is a big category
WRT all these mounds, one potential idiot method is "burning" to get rid of these ... nothing cheaper than throwing some gasoline on it, and throwing a match after; pile is gone ... in theory. Idiot walks away, problem (of mounds of brush/logs) solved.
What REALLY happens is, someone that doesn't know better, lights the pile off in the worst possible condition, and we get to fight a wildland fire. Someone that does know better, lights the pile off in reasonably better conditions, but then "takes a quick lunch break", and we get to fight a wildland fire. And the list is pretty much endless ...
Every such incident has the potential to destroy property, and possibly end lives. For a sadly "short" period of time, we had the record for size of a fire in acres (spring fire of 2018) ... I'm not sure the ink was all that dry on that record book entry. Fire was started by an (illegal) idiot ...
How is this problem being solved?
In our county, we pretty much have a continuous, year-round open fire ban (which you get around with a permit). Everybody and their dog is trying to write/enforce all kinds of rules & regulations, to solve the problem DURING, or AFTER the fact of burning the pile(s). Get a permit; no burning on certain days, etc. All great in theory, but rarely great in practice. That's OK, we can fine the person who caused the problem we couldn't prevent.
Can we solve the problem BEFORE the burning of the pile? There might be an issue with *everyone* making money off of such piles ... we'd have to follow the money to see where it's going these days.
A pile buried is potentially a life saved ...
What about Hugelkultur beds/berms as the before solution ... how does a Hugelkultur bed/berm help? All the mounds being burned *could* go into a bed/berm, and in fact, might do better for the environment at the micro (soil creation/improvement, etc.) and macro level (no smoke, particulates, etc.) And, if a wildland fire is prevented, that same Hugelkultur bed/berm possibly just saved lives!
I'm not sure any of these folks know about WOOFers and such, who could do the work regardless of any current ban being in place.
I've been saving piles of dead/down, brush, etc., and trying to figure out what to do with them, as we create our homestead and work the land. Thanks for the Hugelkultur message, as it seems to me this is *our* answer to the problem, with no burning necessary. A pile buried is potentially a life saved ... or, at least a wildland fire I don't possibly have to fight (and it's hard to tell the chief that we object to wildland fire fighting on permaculture principles of bury it, don't burn it).
Beds/berms being planned, tractor warming up, as I write this ...
I would add to hugels the building of woody debris filled ditches, French drains and swales below and upwind of structures to catch runoff in wet times and hold it in fungally inoculated and therefore fire retardant wet wood. These could basically become wetlands that also support wildlife, beneficials organisms like amphibians, birds and pollinators. These woody debris filled runoff trenches can also serve as paths when topped with woodchips, and roots grow into them and their fungally rich, nutrient transporting humus that is formed over time. They also maintain positive drainage better than piped or gravel French drains (research on ancient Roman and old English versions show centuries of usefulness).
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
I wish I knew more about how fire works, but it seems you either do, or have access to people who do, so please consider these thoughts and maybe explore them? (and report back?)
1. As I understand it, Hugels hold moisture in the soil. Does this mean the plants on the hugel will be greener and harder to burn? Does this mean that if you were to plant known "fire resistant" plants on the side of a hugel that would be in the most common direction a wild-fire might approach things you don't want burned, the hugel could slow or divert the fire?
If you could determine it would, that might help convince people to build them.
2. Part of issues with wildfires is the wind and turbulence. I've heard different opinions on how wind reacts to obstacles such as fences, berms and hedges. I do know and understand that "leaky" barriers can slow the wind. I know I read an article somewhere that suggested that a solid berm would lift storm winds and keep them higher for a calculable distance - so if you were in line for hurricane force winds, a berm between it and your house that was the right distance, would help lift the wind above your house rather than damaging it.
Can fire be lifted like that? Could a series of hugels lift the fire above the house even if it dropped back down? Would that actually be a help or a hindrance, as I gather that "crown fires" are far worse and this might create the crown fire effect?
Certainly, getting people to change their habits will help save lives. Building hugels is a fair bit of "work" whereas many people see building a big fire as "fun", so you'll have that working against you. You need to have lots of reasons why hugels are better (like good food in your back yard).
Have you done any research into biochar? There are a number of types of biochar kilns - you still get the fire, but not the embers and it's contained, and somewhere in the north-west US one of the gov't forest managers are using them. The char buried in the soil (and inside a hugel) can also help hold water and improve fertility, and it's a good way to clean up wood that could otherwise add fuel to a fire.
Good luck on your efforts and we love to read updates regardless of success rates!
I really like hugelkulture. I have some beds that I'm working on, and will continue to add more, but they are a lot of work. And at least on my property any large ones will require heavy machinery. And my heavy machinery guy won't come out unless there is at least a full days work. That means I have to save up money and have a bunch of work ready all at one time. Burning is cheap. I don't do it, but most of the people around here do.
To my mind, if the county wants less burning more hugelkulture they should offer to move the dirt to cover the piles. They have access to all those dozers that they use to fight fires, they could be used in the off season to make rural properties more resilient against wildfires.
What I find most useful about a Hugel bed is that any (potentially) burnable stuff is buried below a blanket of earth, and shouldn't catch fire ... immediate problem solved for me, and no permits. Assuming the bed is done (right) and wet underneath ... that pile of woody stuff should not cause grief like it would above ground. Where we are, I can start it off wet (haul water to it).
Whereas, when piled open in ditches (erosion control, small quarries, etc.) it could get ignited by a nearby ground fire, and that open pile now goes up ... such fires are in the books for our area. I'm amazed only by the farmers/ranchers imagination in where to push this stuff. I couldn't recommend piling it openly in any way, in fire-prone and problematic areas if it could be avoided ... chipping, converting to some other use seems a better fit to me. However, everyone does it around the county, along with the burns. Nobody buries it that I've seen ...
Buried french drains concept ... hmm; that is worthy of a test ... needs a BH, but perhaps I can finagle the tractor into doing some of the trench work. More research ...
Berms that affect the fire front and fire behavior in general ... more research. Perhaps the relevant fire software could model this.
Again, my low-hanging fruit was to get this stuff below ground, covered up ... Hugelkultur benefits that accrue later then become "chocolate-covered low-hanging fruit"!
I'm fortunate in having a tractor to approach this stuff ... it does only tractor things (or at least, that's all I can get it to do), and I hope the rear blade & fel will be enough to construct these beds/berms, else I'm in the same boat as those w/o the bd or bh. We did manage these other projects:
1. we combined our need for a mini-excavator for the septic tank with other projects ... a nearby lake got a dry-hydrant (and the fire department paid for the materials), and other drainage lines were cut.
2. these heavy equipment owners are always suggesting ways to me to get work of "a full day", such as "get all the neighbors aligned for a bunch of projects" ... could be like herding cats, but possible?
3. rent the special equipment over the weekend, and have your own operator drive it ... this got us some additional BD work, and labor was 25/hr as the operator didn't have his own BD at the time.
Finally, we found a hungry-enough bobcat guy who just didn't charge us a delivery fee, and we paid only his hourly charge. I know that's rare ...
I’d recommend checking out Bill Zeedyk’s work, some of which is available on YouTube and elsewhere for free.
I would consider fire effects in any such woody debris filled ditch or drainage, but in many cases the amount of water held and seeped into the ground/vegetation vastly outweighs the risk, as that wood is going to be the wettest stuff around. Also, wood less than 1ft long or with good ground contact becomes inoculated with fire retardant fungi. It could of course burn in a big fire, but it is likely to be one of the last things to ignite. In most cases healthy plants with ignite well after ones deck or wooden structures. This was shown in the fires inland of me last year which burned many structures close to each other, but that had trees surrounding them that survived.
I have had to accept where I am that despite getting 80-120” of rain per year, I have pyrophytic trees around me here just above the redwood belt, and there may well be a mega fire across NW California that I can do very little about, beyond being a good steward and educator. Such a fire could potentially burn everything organic in its path. It probably did historically burn pretty catastrophically across the Pacific NW coast every 250yrs or so. The last was in the early 1700’s, as shown by soil samples, surviving tree scars, native peoples’ oral histories and sailors accounts. Large, self stabilizing climatic pockets of Coast redwood (2500yr+ Lifespans), and cloud forests in the montane zone (around 1000’ in the Olympic Mtns) of coastal OR, WA, and BC with yellow cedar (3600+ yrs) and western red cedar (2000+yrs) survived by suppressing the fires as they approached with tannins in their wood and billions of gallons of water stored in the soil and their ecosystems’ biomass. Smoke clouds would hold in their evapo-transporated water (many thousands of gallons per day), and the soil would look like it was steaming. I have seen this on hot, smoky days in the Olympic coastal rainforests and the coast redwoods. Many other similar microclimates survived as well through the west coast but many millions of acres burned, including most of the relatively fire resistant Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, and nearly all the fire prone or pyrophytic spruce, pines, hemlocks and true firs. Knowing what tree species mean about the past of a place by inference from to their fire ecology can be very helpful in understanding how fire would likely behave in the future. Of course though, climate change makes anomalous phenomena more likely.
However, even in recent record setting fires that had tragic results in places, go look at the burned areas and take note of how the lower valleys and north slopes are often green and largely unharmed. These areas are shadier, cooler, less windy and hold snow longer, then receive its runoff. We can strategically and regeneratively create such areas below and/or upwind of our structures, which shed a great deal of water. We can store that water from times of abundance, ideally mostly in living systems, and that will slow and potentially deflect a fire that would otherwise torch a dehydrated, desertified landscape that has been designed to shed all its water and burn all its biomass. I have said it a thousand times, but the loss of biomass on the pacific coast due to logging and development has had an immense impact on the water and fire cycles of everywhere downwind, which is the rest of the continent. 10’s of billions of gallons of evapotranspiration per day have been lost.
We do need to manage forests better, and that will involve cutting a lot of smaller trees that were planted much too densely and with too little diversity, then burning some for heat in efficient ways, some for biochar, using them for building materials, and if nothing else for soil building in hugelkulture, animal bedding, and then as mulch. Greater Community access to excavators and efficient woodchippers would make these jobs more doable and therefore they’d get done more often. I also think market demand for woody debris, woodchips, compost, or otherwise underappreciated “forest products” that accumulate as dangerous fuels in the unhealthy mono crop plantations across the country that really don’t deserve to be called forests at all.
In the before times when I managed only a couple acres, I got involved in the local fire safety council, and shared some of these ideas to some folks with mixed levels of receptiveness. I oughtta get back involved with them, if for only the selfish reason that they have an industrial wood chipper and I have some uses for it. This is an underutilized resource and if we could get neighbors with equipment involved we could significantly reduce understory fuels around us while increasing our soil water holding capacity at the same time. I can also rent an excavator for 1500$/week, and if I run it for 70hrs in that week I pay less per hour than I would owning and maintaining it. I’ve heard it’s much cheaper in less remote places. I got to learn how to run one working for the parks service, and for something simple like hugel building a beginner with good coordination and reasonable caution can pick it up pretty quickly. My wife built a hugel 50’x7’x7ft in a couple hours on her first time driving it.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
This thread needed a summary picture because the ideas seem worth sharing.
How Hügels could save lives: 1. Provides a (productive) alternative disposal method of low-value, combustible forest fuel woods.
2. Improves soil organic matter, soil food web, and moisture content.
3. Large mass of soil and buried wood will block or minimize the immediate radiation effects of a fire, buying residents time.
4. Provides a low maintenance growing niche for fire-resistant plants and succulents.
5. Potentially channels convective heat in a more upward, rather than outward direction; and may be useful to alter the direction of the fire's frontal advance.
knowledge is the difference between drudgery and strategic action -- tiny ad