Fire - Burning the Brushpiles

Earlier this month, we burned the brush piles we had accumulated from last fall's clearing of the chaparral area on the slope below the house.

The brush piles had become homes for critters, and I felt bad to evict them, but unfortunately it had to be done. This pile was huge to start with, but when I got it down to about this size:

I could see there was clearly a woodrat in residence, based on the nest and the munched up passion fruits I found.

I also surprised an alligator lizard! I have never seen one of these before!

Looks like he had regrown his tail! I ended up leaving a smallish pile hoping they would stay in their home, but I fear I disturbed them too much. Look at this guy's eyes!

It's endlessly fascinating to burn stuff. I remember as a child, how the pleasure was compounded by the knowledge that it was naughty to light matches or candles or put to a piece of paper in the fireplace to watch it bloom into flame. I also remember the house being full of smoke and the fire brigade arriving and a firefighter gently asking me if I'd been playing with fire in the attic.

So I enjoyed being in charge of the burn pile, and keeping the flames going but not so high they would scorch the nearby shrubs. Rat is less patient. He is not allowed to be in charge.

I also uncovered a beautiful millipede (difference between millipede and centipede: centipedes have one leg per body segment and millipedes have 2 or 4). I think he's a common millipede.

He quickly curled up when I disturbed him.

Well I hope they are all alive and well today, somewhere down there.

I was thinking about the local native Californians as I burned. I've been reading about how they systematically burned the land to promote growth of more food plants. Some academics believe that the burning was so extensive and was sustained for so long - people lived here for 10,000 years at least - that some of the California habitats we think of as natural are in fact man made! But more of that in another post.


Carol said…
Fabulous Post!! I have piles to burn too and will get to it soon if the snow stays away! I love to burn in the snow too! I will look out for little critters!! Great photos of yours! ;>))
Christine said…
Wow, it's a zoo! That lizard has attitude. You have me laughing about Mr. Rat not being allowed to be the firemaster.
susie said…
Interesting post, I will be waiting to hear about what we think of as natives. You made me think of when I lived in Yuba City as a child. We were actually allowed to burn our leaves in the gutter. What an event that was, all of us kids would gather around & roast marshmallows!
AnneTanne said…
Here, we never burn the brushpiles. This kind of small wood is left to slowly decompose, somewhere in the birch groove in the farthest part of the garden. But of course, our climate is rather humid, and the wood decompose faster than in a dry region.

(But: our son has his own private 'fireplace', an oven he build himself, in the garden, and after a period of rain, when the surrounding is really soaked wet, he is allowed to have a fire...under supervison of course)
Country Mouse said…
Yes, things don't decompose in the dry, unfortunately, and dead wood can't be left around in summer as a fire hazard. I would like to have on of those Mexican clay fireplaces, chiminea, and have seating around it, to burn smaller amounts. Also if I could invent a "log roller" that would compress stuff from brush piles into something you could burn in a fireplace - like a duraflame log - well! I'd be rich!!
When we cleared our orchard area, the brush piles were enormous too! Took us five days to get through one pile! We finally invested in a chipper-shredder to keep the brush in check, and minimize the summer season fire hazard. We still have some stumps to burn out in the veggie garden. Hopefully this weekend, if the sun continues to shine!

Trees and branches that come down in our shaded wooded areas through are left as habitat whenever possible, but fire-safety has to come first sometimes.

I love your alligator lizard. We have quite a few up here, though they are more elusive than our fence lizards. I'm sure he has some friends lurking around your property too, watch out for them when the weather starts to warm up.
Country Mouse said…
OOOh a chipper-shredder - I want one. But what I understand is that the ones that really work well cost a huge amount, and the affordable ones get jammed all the time. We were debating whether to hire the tree guys to chipper up all the stuff we've accumulated. We still might - there is more. I go back and forth on the habitat value vs fire risk too.
Elephant's Eye said…
We have a chipper. Takes all the bulky twiggy small branches. Then what is left is firewood.
Country Mouse said…
Hey, any recommendations on chippers would be most welcome!
Barbara said…
My thumb nail is still purple from my shredder. As you may remember I smashed it while clearing a jammed twig. Mine is electric and really not up to your wood pile. I hope someone recommends something because I can't keep up with twigs and branches on my 1/3 acre lot.
Gail said…
Fascinating and an enjoyable read! Looking forward to more about CAL native plants. gail