(For legal purposes, I have to say this is not advice. I do not recommend doing this in any way shape or form, nor do the owners of this blog, business, or any of its subsidiaries. This is a cautionary tale.)
I’m either a pyromaniac, lazy, or cheap. Most likely, it’s all three. I don’t want to dismantle a building and then discard the materials at a dump or recycling center. It’s time-consuming, expensive, and not all that fun. Plus, many recycling centers won’t take all the types of materials and going to the landfill can cost upwards of $100 per truck-bed to dump. So setting fire to my structures seems the easiest, albeit most dangerous, ways of destroying my old and dilapidated buildings.
The first was a chicken coop that didn’t quite meet the requirements of my chickens. It was too small, not enough air flow, and it was extremely hard to clean. So I built a better one in another area of the yard and then one night I moved all the chickens into the new coop and locked them in so they couldn’t escape (I didn’t want to cook a hen in the old coop).
First, I prepped the area. It was winter so I wasn’t too worried about spreading the flames (the nearest tree was about 200 feet away). Still, I moved any straw sticks and straw bales, kept my cars and gas cans a long way away, and made sure I had my fire extinguisher ready. I poured one cup of gasoline into the old coop, onto the dried straw and pine shavings.
Next, I grabbed an old 2×4 about 10 feet long and set it in the coop (touching the gasoline-soaked straw). I streamed lighter fluid along the board to act as a fuse. One uses lighter fluid because it travels more slowly than gasoline, and gives you time to run away. I lit the fuse and ran.
It caught fire right away and there was no roasted-chicken smell.
To keep the fire going, you need a good metal rake. Or even better, my personal favorite, a Potato Fork. They have four tongs, are sharp, and allow you to move boards and embers easily.
Watch the fire for as long as it takes to turn to ash, continually moving the old boards and roofing materials into the main flames. Depending on the structure and the amount of fuel you used, it could take an hour or several more.
The second time I burned down a structure was my even larger chicken coop. I had built it out of reclaimed garage doors, with ladders in the middle as roosts, and a trap-door floor which allowed me to clean it easily. But still, it wasn’t quite the right coop. Despite my best efforts, it was still hard to clean, there was little room for layer nests and, quite frankly, it was ugly.
This time it was summer, so I had to take more precautions. I waited until we had three straight days of rain and the tree leaves were filled with water. Still, I doused them with my garden hose just in case. I cleared the surrounding area again and prepped the coop with gasoline and lighter fluid, as I’d done the previous time.
But I poured a little too much gasoline this time. And underestimated the structure. Lesson learned: The larger the structure, the larger the flames.
Within a few minutes of ignition the fire was out of control. The roof held the flame in and turned it into a flaming oven. I could barely get within 20 feet.
I grabbed my garden hose and started spraying the flames from afar. It seemed fruitless, but the small stream actually did quell the flames a little. It would never have extinguished the fire. The watering of the boards did slow it down at least.
The fire was done in just a couple hours. No one was hurt. Nothing spread. And there was nothing left but metal brackets and hinges. I sprayed them too, so no curious farm animal would get burned while sniffing it.
These fires saved time. They saved money. But they also poured a bunch of filth into the environment and endangered my home and neighbors. This is not the way to destroy your old buildings. Take the time and do it right, or contact your local fire department. Many will demolish your buildings for free as part of their training exercises!
Ben North lives and writes from a homestead in Iowa.