Fire season, alpacas – and the things that burn

A few weeks ago I did a series of burns to prepare my block for fire season. I kept these bonfires very small for fear they’d get out of control, even with everything so damp. As a result, I had to struggle to keep my fires going, yet even so I learned some interesting things about what does, and does not, burn in my part of Australia.

As expected, the dry leaves and twiggy branches of gum trees burn very nicely, thank you very much. However I also discovered that even relatively fresh gum leaves will burn. As these leaves contain highly volatile oils, I should not have been surprised by this either.

Still on the subject of leaves and volatile oils, I threw some lemon tree prunings onto the fire and took a big step backwards, expecting the branches to explode into flames. The leaves did burn quite nicely but the branches seemed to burn no better than any other green wood.

Next I tried the dry stalks and flower heads of agapanthus. [Picture courtesy of wiki]

Once these flowerheads and stalks dry off, they burn like paper. The green leaves however took a long time to dry out and eventually burn. For me, the lesson here was that clumps of well maintained agapanthus may help extinguish embers. At a certain temperature, however, anything can and will burn.

While cutting out the dry agapanthus stalks, I also trimmed back some branches of a very hardy, invasive and hard to eradicate shrub whose name I don’t know. I remember finding pictures of it  once, as part of a listing of ‘weeds’ in the Warrandyte area.

I took the two pictures below in the hope that someone would recognize it and name it. [Thanks for the camera tip Metan!]

The reason I want to name and shame this plant is that it snap, crackles and pops on the fire… even when it’s fresh and very green. This thing seems to burn even better than gum leaves, and in a bushfire I can imagine it merrily shooting off burning embers in all directions.

I know Nillumbik Shire Council considers it to be a noxious weed because it is not indigenous to the area, but they have done nothing to force residents to eradicate it. Nor have they, themselves, eradicated it from roadsides and other public places. This stuff should be attacked without mercy because it burns so well, not because of any airy, fairy conservationist principles.

Now that I know how dangerous this unnamed plant truly is, I’ll be blitzing it with a vengeance. If you know what it’s called please let me know asap!

The most welcome thing I learned from my burning off was that I can discourage the alpacas from pooping close to the house by :

a) relocating their poop piles and

b) burning off on the spot where the piles used to be.  I suspect the smell of the ash and charcoal masks the smells that tell the alpacas  ‘Here be  the toilet’.

For those who haven’t been following my adventures with alpacas, these big, woolly lawn-mowers like to leave their poop in neat piles. Unfortunately a couple of their preferred toilet spots are rather close to the house. That is a problem because, although the smell isn’t really all that bad, the green volcanos that grow up around them are both unsightly and difficult to mow by hand. Trust me, you do not want to accidentally mow into a pile of wet poop. 😦

I’ve tried sprinkling lemon oil over these unwanted piles but it didn’t work as a deterrent. The burns will work, so long as you repeat the process until the alpacas ‘forget’ and move on to somewhere else. They can be rather stubborn so even this is not a magic bullet.

As always, I would love to see my fellow residents taking a more proactive part in keeping Warrandyte safe[r] from bushfires.



About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

14 responses to “Fire season, alpacas – and the things that burn

  • Stephanie Allen Crist

    I generally don’t comment to these posts, because I have nothing to add, but I do want to let you know that I enjoy these peeks into a living environment so different from my own. 🙂 Good luck staying bushfire free!!!


  • lorddavidprosser

    Now Now, wipe your chin and back to the task at hand.Having seen the success ( lack of) you’ve had with Warrandyte Council, couldn’t you get a petition going with the other residents for Warrandyte to tackle clearing this particular weed from roadsides etc? Surely they must have a department for dealing with this type of thing? Remind the local councillor who votes for him.


  • Candy Korman

    At the risk of a cliche, you’re fighting fire with fire.

    Also, when you tossed the lemon on the fire — did it smell lovely? I just made a baked lemon custard and I love the aroma given off by the oils in the lemon peel.


    • acflory

      lol – Yes, it is a bit like that. The eucalypts shed leaves and branches constantly. I pick them up and put them into piles and then I have to do something with the piles. 😦

      Re the lemon scent. I was expecting to smell it but didn’t really notice anything. Maybe outside you have to burn a huge amount to get that lovely smell. Just by the by, baked lemon custard is one of my favourite desserts…..-drool-


  • Ilil Arbel

    Andrea, I keep forgetting to tell you but the burn article reminded me. Lots and lots of gum trees from Australia were imported to Israel when the pioneers started drying the swamps around the turn of the 20th century. The trees drank the filthy wated and created marvelous little forests, and in this way the malaria was cured. My mother loved the gum trees, the scent was so good, we used to keep branches with the cut flowers she always had in the house. I wonder if they are still around now that so much of Israel is urban… I can smell them now.


  • metan

    I will remember to look out for that one, it is not one we have here but bad things spread veeeery easily, don’t they?

    It always amazes me how easily some green, lush, things burn. Ti-trees grow like weeds and go up like a bomb and those plants (not sure of the name) that are used as massive screening hedges along the sides of the road around here are the same.

    We have heaps of them, self-seeded, in the garden and have allowed them to grow for the last few years to help encourage different shrubs to grow around them. Now they are getting taller and the plants around them are established they are being thinned with extreme prejudice!

    The problem isn’t the wood that burns, is it, it is the foilage that generates massive amounts of flame and heat. A bushfire mainly leaves behind denuded trees, the problem has been the undergrowth and foilage, not the trunks.

    Agapanthus are so juicy that they really don’t want to burn at all, do they? I have a friend who lived on a large vineyard and apparently vines don’t like to burn either due to the high water content in the stems.


    • acflory

      I promise you, agapanthus leaves will burn… but they literally have to steam off their water content first so they slow a fire down rather than feeding it. I guess that’s the same for fruit trees and other exotics. The higher the water content the longer it will take for them to burn.

      The thing with so many of the natives is that they have evolved to burn and many contain/produce volatile oils that vaporize in the heat and then one spark will make them go kaboom! Sort of like petrol. 😦


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