Dousing grass fire myths

 Dousing grass fire myths

7 April 2009

published by

Canada — Firefighters must breathe a sign of relief after April 1. Property owners historically try to burn their grass before that date as a permit is required after. These fires sometimes get out of control with disastrous results.

Many people burn grass because they believe the ashes help to enrich the soil, however this is a misconception as explained on the Natural Resources website this year (

Burning actually reduces grass yield 50 to 70 per cent. Buds and seeds of the grass on the soil surface may be destroyed. Mineral matters contained in ashes in any case would have got into the soil as a result of dry grass decaying naturally.

Grass fires result in noticeable decrease of the soil fertility. Some nitric compounds and organic matters become lost. Organic matter, as opposed to ash, provides porosity and encourages friability of the soil, keeps moisture and available nutritious elements in, and improves the soil’s capability of resistance to water and wind erosion. Organic matter incineration is one of the main factors of soil fertility reduction.

Some grass fires have had deadly results, like the one in Cape Breton last year. James Beaton (64) died in hospital a day after suffering smoke inhalation and critical burns from his toes to his chest in a grass fire. He had been out with his dog when a passerby found him in the burning field.

In Oregon, grass fires are a chronic problem each spring as grass-seed farmers burn fields in order to produce pure grass seed.

The debate about field burning intensified after a 1988 chain-reaction traffic wreck near Albany that claimed seven lives after a field burn blazed out of control, enveloping Interstate 5 with dense smoke.

People who live downwind from burning fields say that smoke from the fires makes it tough to breathe and causes health problems for people who suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments. Legislation is underway to change the situation.

Each year in Russia, thousands of houses burn down as a result of dry grass arsons, including historical and cultural monuments. Traditional victims of grass fires include wooden power poles. As bases burn, poles topple, leaving whole villages and settlements without electricity and communication.

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