Sunday, February 19 started off normal. Another beautiful balmy warm mid-winter day. Rick & Edna Stadler joined our further adventures in pyrolytic pyrotechnics.
We experimented adding leaves to the twigs and stems. Brad sprinked a few leaves from his compost in the top third of the barrel. Our concern was leaves may block air flow and choke the fire.
After loading the barrel, we took a break for dinner, then returned at 7pm for another night burn. The burn started well, but soon went south. Just before flames reached peak, the gas flare suddenly shut off and the chimney spewed thick smoke. It was ugly.
|VIDEO: Fireball Cannon
1 min 28 sec; 3.3 Mbytes, .mov
Diagnosis was swift: inadequate air, choked off by leaves. We tried igniting gas by dropping flaming paper down the chimney, but all extinguished in gas-rich, oxygen-deficit air in the stovepipe.
Brad disassembled the chimney to expose the 8-inch hole in the barrel billowing smoke. Brad used the chopper handle to poke holes down through biomass in the barrel to open air channels through the leaves.
After a few minutes, using my lighter, I re-ignited the ascending gas cloud, and flames "poofed" down into the barrelÑand stayed lit.
But when Brad put the chimney back, flames went out in seconds as smoke spewed in the dark. Brad took the chimney off, and I re-lit the gases, but again, the chimney snuffed the flames.
It was then that serendipity struck.
Brad left the chimney on, tilted at a slight angle, creating a crack between chimney and barrel. At irregular intervals, the combination of updraft, air intake and wind shear ignited a burst of flame out of the 8-inch stovepipe.
This intermittent firefly was a huge entertainment that kept us laughing through what was otherwise a failed experiment. My brain recalled the smoke and fire show at the Wizard's Throne in The Emerald City of The Wizard of Oz, and later, I found myself silently humming the scarecrow song, "If I only had a brain."
Despite these difficulties and unexpected events, shutdown was quick as we smoothly smothered flames.
The next day Brad emptied a mix of char and ashes out of the barrel. The geometry of the burn was very uneven, with flames rapidly descending to the barrel bottom down the holes Brad poked in the biomass.
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