Effective Hand Piling and Burning

Do you need a burn pile? As promised last week, here are some tips for safe hand piling and burning.

Piling and burning is a simple and cost effective method of disposing of woody debris in rural areas. One key to efficient burning is how well the slash is piled. Below are some suggestions on how to pile slash so you will get a good hot fire that makes burning easy. They also apply to piling with tractors.


Provide plenty of space between piles and structures and/or trees that you do not want damaged. Radiant heat from burning piles can damage or even ignite improvements and scorch trees. Rising heat can scorch overhanging branches.

Consider reusing good pile locations year after year. Burning piles may sterilize the soil, and encourage growth of noxious weeds. By reusing the same pile locations year to year the effect on the soil will be confined to fewer locations.

The best time to burn piles is during the winter when there is a snow cover that is likely to stay on the ground for an extended period. Be sure to locate your burn piles you can find them easily in the snow.


Proper pile construction is essential for efficient burning. Improperly constructed piles can be very difficult to light and may require a lot of handwork to restack and nurse along to get all materials to burn. Well-constructed piles that burn hot and efficiently will also produce significantly less smoke than piles that burn slow. You can place cardboard sheets within the pile to one corner drier to aid in ignition.

Assure a good burn by following these suggestions:

  • Make your piles compact: Compactness is the single, most important factor affecting ignitability and flammability. Dense fuel concentrations contribute to easier and more robust fire growth. Compact piles shed moisture and allow heat to build up, ensuring that the whole pile is consumed. Loosely stacked piles allow snow and moisture to penetrate the pile, and will not hold sufficient heat for ignition and sustained fuel consumption.
  • Stack piles high. Three to five feet is a good height for hand piles. Three feet is a minimum. It is better to combine piles to make them five to six feet in diameter and four to five feet high, rather than to have a lot of small two to three foot piles.
  • Trim long stems and limbs that protrude from the pile, adding the material to the top of the pile. Remember—compact!
  • In open areas, you can construct piles with much larger dimensions where trees or structures will not be threatened. Compactness remains the key characteristic for effectiveness.

Some Effective Methods for Hand Piling

Cross Hatching. This provides an increasingly tight cap and a dry base with each successive layer. Best built with straighter material. Enhance flammability by adding layers of finer material such as pine boughs.


Haystack. Piles like this are a natural result with brushy, limby material including shrubs and conifer bows. Limbs from deciduous trees may be difficult to pile tightly unless they are cut into small pieces that will make a compact pile. Large amounts of conifer limbs/needles provide a good cap to shed snow and rain.


Tepee Piles. These are easy to build and burn well once a fire is established. However, they are not inherently compact and can be difficult to ignite. This technique would be best used where you can build a good compact center/base first using the haystack or cross hatch method then add uniform stems to finish off the tepee.

Other reminders:

Always heed any current open burning restrictions. These are typically in effect during dry times from late spring to fall.

Always inform your County Fire Dispatch office when you are planning to burn your piles.



We Can Help!

Do you live in Washakie County and want to know more about how to keep your property safer from wildfire this summer?

We can help!

Come on up to our annual picnic at the Willow Park Group Area (map below) on Saturday, June 15, to hear from agency representatives and the Washakie County Firesmart Coordinator about wildfire preparedness. And get a free BBQ lunch by Chubby Cheeks BBQ! It all starts at 11. More about this on our Facebook page.

You can also request a Firesmart Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP) for your property. We will come to you and prepare a plan for your property. Those with approved WMPs in Washakie County may be eligible for cost sharing funds, so you can get help paying for needed mitigation. Home or cabin owners with an approved WMP are also eligible to get free tree pruning within the Home Ignition Zone One (HIZ1, up to 30 feet from your home or cabin), as noted in your WMP.

It’s easy to request a WMP. Just download and complete the form here, sign it, and send it back to us, either by snail mail or email. We’ll contact you to set up a time to come out.

Firesmart Spring Cleaning

This year when you’re doing spring cleaning around your home, cabin, and outbuildings, look a little closer than the Pre-Fire Season Checklist we posted in March.

Here are a few suggestions:

Over the winter, did your vehicle fleet migrate to near—or even under—your structures? That includes the thirty-year-old family heirloom Skidoo that hasn’t turned a crank since the President’s name was Bush. If you “need” to keep it, drag it to a corner outside of the 30-foot ignition zone from all buildings.

Did you get tired of trudging through the snow to the firewood pile, and move it to the porch or carport? Putting it all back outside the 30-foot ignition zone from buildings before fire season is good.

Are you a hoarder? Many of us have stashes of “things” we have saved because we “might need them someday.” While this is not quite the same as the folks you have heard about who have filled their homes from floor to ceiling with newspapers, cardboard boxes of trash, or anything else, it is a form of hoarding. Look at your various collections of used tires, auto parts, and building materials, and think about whether they fill a realistic future need. If they do, take steps to remove at least the flammable items to outside the 30-foot zone of all buildings, or inside of a closed Firewise structure.

Are your outbuildings still weather-tight? Broken windows and gaps around the doors are all potential ember traps during fire season.

Do you have trees that need pruning to meet Firewise recommendations? You shouldn’t prune live limbs until fall, but spring is a good time to evaluate your trees. You can remove dead limbs anytime, but especially when you’re energized for spring cleaning.

Do you have a need for a burn pile this year? Stay tuned. Our next post will have some tips and reminders about piling and burning.

Get the Scoop on Fire Weather

Get up-to-date information from the Riverton office of the National Weather Service on fire weather in our area.

The meteorologists there have put together a PDF of climate forecasts for the next three months. You can download it here.

They also have a great page where you can see fire weather planning forecasts for YOUR specific location and fire zone.  That’s available at www.weather.gov/riw/fire.

Many, if not most, of the fires our departments have seen recently have been controlled burns that got out of control. If you are planning to burn, check the weather and let the local dispatch know. Help keep your home and your neighbors’ homes safe this spring and summer.