Back Burning

Heather fire behaves very differently

After a surprisingly long period of warm, dry weather, the heather is now a different plant altogether. Damp and sluggish to burn last week, the undergrowth is now a crisp, volatile mattress on the hill. I’m starting to see that tactics for burning are totally different when the heather is dry, and we’ve spent the past two days burning into the wind – a slow process, but safe and hot. The wind can’t carry the flames skimming over the heather leaves like it did in the cloud, and instead it crawls, hissing, through the woody stems. By lighting the fire and then putting out the windward side, you burn your own firebreak and force the flames to work into the wind. In the time it takes the flames to pass through, they build up a better heat and when the fire has gone, there’s little more than white ash and a few blackened stumps – the sign of a good fire.

It was a pleasure to take a break from burning the heather to look up and notice a familiar silhouette watching us from the horizon several hundred yards away. A red grouse cock was supervising us, and he seemed to approve of what he saw. After a little while, he rolled off his vantage point with a little flutter of wings and vanished into the deep sea of swirling heather.

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