Wood Chip Fire

Wood Chips

What this photo does not show is 84 tons of wood chips on fire. It doesn’t show 280 cubic-yards of wood chips on fire along with our greenhouse foundation of about 120 cedar logs burning plus the lumber for the sides because Ben and Will caught the fire and put it out.

Wood Chip Truck

What happened was that around mid-day we got our seventh and last load of wood chips. The trucker uses the exhaust from the engine to heat the body of the dump truck so the wood chips won’t freeze in to the truck on the trip over. Something went wrong with the heating system on the way from the logging site to our farm such that the chips at the front of the dump body heated up too much. Most likely they were charring in the truck at low oxygen levels. Then when the chips were dumped the action of falling out of the truck added fuel (O2) to the fuel (wood chips) to create foot high flames.

Greenhouse Foundation with Non-burning Wood Chips

Except the fire hadn’t started immediately and was burning slowly, but worrisomely, when our sons discovered it while hauling lumber out to the greenhouse construction site. They found the foot high flames at the north end of the pile about three o’clock. Fortunately since it was the last chips out of the truck they were away from the rest of of the already flattened piles of chips and Will was able to quickly put out the fire using the tractor.

When Ben came in to tell me of their adventure I could smell it ahead of him as his cloths smelled of the burning fresh wood. He started by telling me:

“All’s well that ends well.”

Then he told me the rest.

Outdoors: 30°F/20°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/60°F

Daily Spark: Scale matters. On the local family pack basis communism (ultra cooperation) is the best solution. As you move outward in social groups the best evolutionary strategy shifts to socialism and at the most extreme end of the social structure capitalism becomes the best strategy. Neither liberals or conservatives will find this politically correct to their liking but it is real.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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20 Responses to Wood Chip Fire

  1. Attila says:

    Great children, you can be proud of them!

  2. Pablo says:

    Such good sons! (I blame the parents.)

  3. Deke says:

    Well done sons! You have much to be proud.

    Walter, I hate to argue you with, but you’re wrong. Here’s one Libertarian conservative and I agree with your spark for the most part. My family does just fine practicing communism in our home and I support the concept of the Israeli Kibbutz where free people freely choose to participate in a communal farm. It’s just the state forced communism that I find unnatural and abhorrent.

    Sorry for the political post, but hey, you started it! ;)

    • Deke, reread the spark carefully and you’ll find that what you said is the same thing I said. We’re both saying that communism / cooperativism starts at home but as the organizations get larger (toward the states) it is the wrong system. Besides, this is economics not politics and perhaps that is where a lot of today’s problems with the political parties lies is that they have hard time differentiating the two.

  4. Herdog says:

    So glad your kids are on the ball and were not reading about SugarMtn turning to Caramel Mtn . They’re keepers!

    On another note, I don’t see Lili in the masthead picture?

  5. laurie says:

    Holy smoke! That could have very easily not ended well. Glad the boys happened upon it. I’ve been chipping branches from a fallen cedar plus a hemlock and a cedar we purposefully took down and was thinking about keeping a big pile of chips on hand for topping off the entrance to our coop to keep the mud at bay. I’m rethinking that now, although I’m pretty sure my pile would probably not be big enough to spontaneously combust since I wouldn’t be “pre-heating” them to dump from my wheelbarrow!

    • This wasn’t spontaneous combustion but rather the hot exhaust from the engine of the truck is used to heat the body of the dump truck. At the point of insertion it created an overly hot spot which brought the chips touching that up to the temperature of ignition.

      Spontaneous combustion from composting is real but was not the issue in this case. My understanding is that it takes a very large pile with hot material (hot as in nitrogen) combined with tinder material to bring that on. I have never had it happen here so I can’t speak from direct experience on that.

    • Patrick says:

      What Walter said, but I’ll add some knowledge.

      A combo of wood chips and dried leaves/grass seems to cause most of the fires I am aware of. They need enough moisture to keep the process going, but not enough to make it wet. If you add low airflow and sunlight…voila. A house burned to the ground last year because a decent sized pile caught and burned while the owner was at work. It was a nice house in the burbs.

      I have big piles – about what Walter has. I manage by moving as much as I can, as fast as I can, but also by watching areas that are in the zone (right moisture) and leaving them alone. Turning them over adds air, and that can be bad under the wrong conditions. My father-in-law burnt his hand in a pile a few years ago as he shoveled some not-quite-done compost from a larger pile and reached in to pull out some sticks in his way. And I also tend to turn over the stuff I am composting right as it starts to rain. I wouldn’t touch it during a dry-spell unless I was hosing it down.

      My advice is don’t keep the stuff near the house, especially if you have grass clippings or dry leaves mixed in. And adding to what Walter said, I think grass would be especially evil considering the proliferation of nitrogen-based fertilizers on a lot of it. If you have it, then spread it wide but not deep.

      And FWIW, I tend to bury the ditreus from animal processing (chickens, pigs, deer, whatever) under a large heap of fresh chips and just walking away. I did 40 chickens in Spring and by late summer there was zero evidence they even existed.

  6. Deke says:

    my error in not being more clear. I was just saying that as a right wing capitalist conservative nut job, I’m proof that not all from the right are going to disagree with your main point.

  7. ron says:

    i used to work at a sawmill
    woodchip fires can rekindle days after you think they are totally extinguished,smoldering embers can stay a hazzard for days buried in low air flow pockets, then suddenly flare up
    if possible, soak area of fire and surrounding area with water, or spread the burned chips out in thin layer for few days untill you are positive they are cool

    at least check for warm areas of chips for next couple weeks

    • Thanks for the tip, Ron. What Ben has done so far is he spread the charring wood chips, and all those that came in that load, out over a large area that is covered with snow and then we had it snow on top of that another inch. Then today he moved that all around again which mixed snow in with that batch of chips. We still don’t trust it though so we’re keeping it away from the rest of the greenhouse chips and leaving a fire break between them. When I went out to check to I did not smell any fresh smoldering. Hopefully we’ve stopped it completely.

  8. T.J. says:

    I think you meant worrisomely (or worryingly) instead of wearisomely? What a relief they caught it in time! That is the power of the blog, I guess, that even though we’ve never met I feel such an emotional vested interest in your family’s farm after years of reading it’s news ; ) (that, and my wife is only vaguely aware I have a secret plan to recreate your farm on the Quebec side of our border as soon as I’m done with grad school– only half-joking, since we already have the land! ; )

  9. Patrick says:

    Good eyes and management by your sons. Glad to see it didn’t go sideways.

  10. Brian says:

    Always nice to read a wood chipper story with a positive outcome.

  11. Farmerbob1 says:


    I’ve been meaning to comment on this for several months now, but I keep forgetting when I have the time, and remembering when I have no time.

    But now I have remembered when I have time!

    Modern heavy duty diesel trucks use a substance called Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) to reduce the more nasty emissions from truck exhaust.

    During normal operation there is little difference in exhaust temperatures. However, every now and then, the DEF system will enter a ‘regeneration’ mode where the exhaust is much hotter, in order to burn off gunk in the exhaust system.

    Your delivery of chips came in 2014, and by that time there were many DEF trucks on the road. It is very possible that the truck might have been a DEF truck, and might have been put in a regeneration cycle by a driver that didn’t think about what that might do to the temperature of the wood chips.

    Just one more thing to keep an eye out for when having mulch or wood chips delivered in the winter.

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