Burn, prairie, burn!

 

My experience with fire is limited. Contained blazes in fireplaces and smaller campfires are comforting, welcoming, inviting on cold nights. I’m rather fond of those.

Other fires–forest fires or grass fires to clear out roadside ditches? I’ve never experienced one, and I’m just fine with that.

Yet here I was this past week chomping at the bit to start a fire, because I have a prairie. Fires are prescribed on prairies – generally every three or four years. Part of the natural cycle of prairie life, cleaning off plant waste, keeping brush and volunteer trees under control.

With the open, dry winter we’ve had, any burn could be risky. My complete lack of experience makes it more so. I looked to my more experienced husband. He kept telling me it would only take 15 minutes. I know my prairie patch isn’t all that big, but I was skeptical.

We went to the prairie, well prepared, waiting until dusk when the wind died down. We had newspapers and a lighter to start the fire and buckets of water and rakes to stop it if we had to. I called the county emergency services to alert them to our plan.

We tucked lit newspapers in the up-wind side of the prairie. In seconds, the dried plant residue kindled and flames grew. In less than a minute the fire was so hot I retreated 20-30 feet. The fire swept along, fueled by the brush, pushed by the breeze.

As a rabbit ran ahead of the fire, I couldn’t help but think of a wide open range fire with buffalo, antelope and other wildlife stampeding to escape. I wondered at my own ability to escape such a blaze. A creek, for sure. But could I hide under an overturned wheelbarrow or any other inflammable structure? Someplace. Anyplace, to be safe. I doubt I could have outrun it. Scary thoughts, indeed.

Even in my small prairie, the fire was impressive. It was exciting. I called emergency services to tell them our fire was out. It was over in 19 minutes.

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