Grass Fire in Oxfordshire: Case Study

At the risk of making it seem that he is a relentless pyromaniac this case study about the dangers of fire in the garden tells a true tale that happened to Brian Shaw*. He already appears in these pages in our case study about Safety and the use of flammable liquids on bonfires

Truth be told Brian has another bonfire related case study that we could bring to these pages but it is a simple case of putting on too much wood and the flames going a little too high for safety. The only damage was singeing the ends of a few tree branches. His wife wasn’t best pleased but that’s the whole story, not much for a case study.

Learning From Mistakes

There is a little more to this particular salutary tale, because there’s valuable information to impart. If Brian hadn’t seen the signs and worked out what was happening, the results could have been disastrous, the Shaws may even have been run out of their village.

It was an ordinary bonfire, left over building materials again. This time it was the wood from a cheap lean-to at the back of the house which was making way for a proper extension. Brian had piled the wood up in the middle of the lawn for a bonfire because a garden makeover was on the cards once the building work had been finished.

Usual Regard for Fire Safety

“The fire wasn’t a very large one,” said Brian, although his wife rolled her eyes at this so you can make your own minds up. “I was feeding it more wood every now and again but I had to do the foundations for the extension as well, so I wasn’t right by it all the time, I suppose.”

We need to add that this was a couple of years ago in late May, so it had been dry for the previous six to eight weeks and scorching hot for two. The grass was tinder dry and although it wasn’t growing much it had been cut every now and then.

Strange Happenings on the Lawn

“I began to wonder why the grass was going black around the bonfire,” Brian said, “then I noticed that the black was moving, pretty fast, away from the bonfire in all directions.

“I couldn’t work it out, I thought maybe it was a swarm of insects running away from the wood, but even as I thought of that I realised it wasn’t really plausible.”

Grass Fire

A number of other implausible scenarios ran through Brian’s mind before he realised the grass was on fire. What had happened was that the blades of grass that had been cut weeks before had dried into a loose thatch just above the ground, and this was burning. The lawn was being cooked.

“You couldn’t see any flame, you see, it was too small,” Brian explained, “and there was hardly any smoke either. As each piece of thatch burned itself out the fire had to move sideways to the next one, I suppose, because there was no fuel above it. And the thatch must have been loose, so there were lots of gaps to draw air around and underneath the grass, fanning the flame.”

Lawn Rescue

Once the situation was clear it was very quickly dealt with. Brian grabbed the hose and dampened down the grass, starting at the bottom of the garden where there was a wooden fence and a barn full of straw on the other side.

“Yeah, doubt if we would have been welcome in the village for much longer if that had gone up,” Brian laughed, oblivious to the stony look on his wife’s face.

Once more we beat a hasty retreat, hoping that Brian would be damping down the lawn for safety reasons every time he lit a bonfire in the future.

* name changed, but it is the same person, honest.