M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Tuesday, April 15, 2003  

Fire! Fire! Fire!

Last week it was finally warm enough to boot up my chiminea for the first time this season. That’s kind of an odd statement, I realize; it makes it sound like it was so cold that flames would freeze solid, which was actually only true for a couple of months. But still, even when the temperature gets up to a relatively balmy thirty or forty or even fifty degrees, one feels a little silly acting all Jack London in the back yard, twenty feet away from a insulated, [usually] warm house. Also, until last week it got dark too soon to build a decent fire. We had maybe an hour of daylight left when we got home from work, and maybe half that when we got out of bed on the weekends.

But last Thursday, I finally got around to lighting a fire so I could burn our Christmas tree that’s been lying next to the deck, simultaneously drying out and silently mocking me for three months.

There is a right way and a wrong way to burn a Christmas tree, apparently. When my dad was about my age, he did it the wrong way. This method involves feeding the tree into an indoor fireplace horizontally, on the theory that as the fire consumes one end of the tree, it’ll make room for the other. Alas, fire is not a wood chipper, and in a matter of seconds, my dad was standing in the living room holding one end of a Christmas tree that was one-third in and two-thirds-out of the fireplace, yet entirely ablaze. Mom still tells us we’re all lucky to be alive.

So I used this rare opportunity to learn from my father’s mistakes, and fed the tree to the chiminea one dismembered branch at a time. The yellow, desiccated needles of each section caught instantly, sending a roar and a blast of heat out the front opening, and a mushroom-shaped column of flame out the top of the chimney. Trying to burn that thing in one piece would have been like trying to light just one end of a seven-foot-long match head. Fortunately, I’m smarter than that. As you will soon see.

So Thursday night, when it got dark, there was nothing left of the Christmas tree but a couple of smoldering logs in the chiminea. I washed the encrusted dirt, ash, pine needles, tree sap, and blood off my hands and congratulated myself on a job well done.

Then on Sunday, I had myself another little fire. The next-door neighbors have this ancient oak tree whose branches hang over our yard and shed twigs on it like a black cat on a white couch. I collected the bigger ones, raked the smaller ones into a pile along with the residual leaf-fall from the winter, and sat down to start feeding refuse into my little incinerator a couple of handfuls at a time. Eventually, the half-burned leaves started clogging up the combustion process, so I stirred the fire down to a low simmer, then went to work on the front yard for a few minutes while my ashes settled down to a more manageable level.

When I came back around the house, the flames had not only returned; they’d escaped. The pile of leaves I’d scraped onto the stone patio was pretty much black and quite a bit shorter, although it was still burning in several places. Including the part that the head of my plastic garden rake had been resting in. More on that in a minute. There was too much fire to stamp out, but the garden hose took care of it in a second or two. If the leaves had been on the grass, I probably would have been on the ten o’clock news that night. And on the Darwin Awards website the following month.

Seriously, what kind of idiot goes off and leaves a fire burning next to a big pile of dry leaves? Don’t tell me it could have been worse. I know it could have been worse. My Aim N Flame was on the ground next to the pile of burning leaves, and when I picked it up it was warm. That thing was practically brand new. If it had exploded, there would have enough butane in there to take out the whole ZIP code, I bet. Yes, it could have been a lot worse. It could hardly have been better. Suddenly my dad’s stunt with the Christmas tree didn’t seem so dumb; at least he didn’t just poke the crown into the fireplace and leave us kids watching TV in the living room.

Really, the worst thing that happened was some scorch marks on my patio that’ll probably scrub off. And my rake was ruined. But even that’s not all bad.

See, I think the paper adhesive label ignited first. And between that and the burning leaves, the actual plastic rake head got hot enough to catch fire. Most of one edge was totally consumed. When I picked it up it looked like a dragon had taken a bite out of it. Waving it around to blow out the fire only sent sizzling droplets of molten plastic in every direction. How is this good, you ask?

You know how some horror movies have that scene where the enraged peasants stream from the village, carrying pitchforks and torches? Who decides who gets what? And it you decide yourself, how do you choose between being able to skewer somebody with an agricultural implement and being able to see where you’re going? Well, I don’t have to worry about that any more. Now that I’ve figured out how to light an agricultural implement on fire, I can have it both ways and still be able to keep one hand free to hold my sandwich. Next time I have to storm a mad scientist’s laboratory, I’m going to be set.

Also, my house didn’t burn down, so that goes in the plus column as well.

posted by M. Giant 3:25 PM 0 comments


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