Witnessing a cane farm burn

Greg the owner of the working sugar farm where we are staying at, invited us all to witness a cane farm burn. We took it up and it is a fabulous experience.  WOW!!!! Let me cut to the chase: It was super awesome. LOL

Being up close to the sound and fury of a cane fire in full roar is like nothing else you could experience without being engulfed in a real bushfire. It all happens relatively quickly From the first fire lit to the end takes maybe no more than 10 minutes, which adds to the excitement as well as the danger.

Now the details: 

Apparently the Burdekin region is the only cane growing region in Queensland that still burns all of it's cane before harvesting it. I am not going to get drawn into the environmental debate here.  But here is some of the info I garnered:

The farmers have stuck with burning for practical reasons: There are many varieties of cane and the cane they grow here is thicker and taller than average. This variety copes better with the abundance of water in the region but it also makes the cane too leafy to cut when it is weighed down by more leafy growth which is of no value. Apparently the Burdekin crops are murder on mechanical harvesters which is why the Burdekin region still burns their sugarcane before harvesting.  A side note: you can see a selection of the different varieties of sugar cane at Ingham's Tyko Wetlands. 

The fires are lit from June to December. The farmers take a lot of things into consideration including waiting until dusk when the temperatures and winds have dropped.

The farmers work together like a co-op. There's fire engines present to help ensure safety. Constant monitoring of the wind direction. The farmers form a mini co-op sort of thing, helping each other out in turn. Preparations are meticulous. First, the farmer would plough a 5m corridor in the cane to make a fire break with a tractor.

A drip torch is carried along the break they've cut through the dry cane. Flames dance into the darkening sky, in almost no time at all it towers over the two men and soon the cane itself. Shortly the whole paddock is engulfed.  Safety is their number one concern ensuring the person who's back-burning doesn’t get too far ahead of the others in case the wind does change. This cane is tough stuff. Someone cuts off a piece for us to taste. I missed that opportunity. The area relies on flood irrigation and is crisscrossed by water channels and furrows that would be choked if cane trash were left on the ground.

In no time at all the whole experience is over and done with. I was probably just 10 minutes all up from the first lighting of the cane to the end. I am guessing it was a paddock of 300m square (I forgot to ask that question!)  It is so exciting that the quick end is almost anti-climatic. It is something I will remember for the rest of my life.

If you have the opportunity to witness one, take it as obviously it will end up being closed down on environmental as well as safety issues one  day.

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