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pit fire saga

updated sun 23 jul 06


Sean Burns on sat 22 jul 06

Yesterday was the group pit fire at the camp gig I do in the summer out
in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. In the past I have done the low fire
amaco glaze act with the kids but after a couple years of that we wanted
something different so off to bisque at cone 010 land- mix up the sig and
get out the copper wire and bannana peel routine!
With the pieces all bisqued- and some pots and pieces already decorated
I rolled into camp early yesterday to set up- I already had the site near
the lakefront selected and a covered woodpile to work from- I made sure I
had someone to help me get the tarps up for sun and rain protection as
well as to help with the kids while I supervised pot decoration or
excavating the pit- Jon Bechard a former student of mine at the high
school came into help and was a great asset to the effort- he is searching
for his next leap after graduating Mass College of Art a year ago.
The weather was definately going to be an issue- unsettled with possibly
some rain and thunder in the evening- hit or miss- not ideal but I had to
get the firing done or wait till next week and really put myself in a bind
time wise so I decided to go for it but start early in the morning-
finishing up earlier than originally planned to avoid the rain if it
should come-
Tarp up- pit laid out- in come the kids- city kids- NYC mostly- 14 year
olds- Who wants to help Dig? about half the group of 20- really? not
kidding- had to run and get more shovels for them!- I went to the barn to
decorate pots with the other group- nothing fancy- put some sig on- maybe
burnish if you want- wrap some copper wire- respect the piece even though
its not yours- 1 1/2 hours later pit mostly dug- big rock in the middle
poses an issue- many pots decorated.
After lunch I loaded up the perforated trash can for the barrell burn- I
got this free from our local freecycle this spring complete with hardwood
shavings and dust, only fired once, figured someone was trying to tell me
somthing- sending a sign. placed it out in the fire circle with firebrick
While the group was at a swim session Jon and I finsished off the pit-
now 2 side by side pits maybe 4' x 6' with the rock in the middle
creating a walkway between the two fire areas- worked out good. We laid
our firebrick in and put sawdust and twigs at the ground level and set the
firescreens on top of the brick- loaded up- small wood scraps- dust- pond
grass- colorants- cobalt carb- miracle grow- some salt- peels mixed in
with the pots- while we were doing this the kids showed up and helped-
some just hung out- nice vibe-
Done in no time- but what amazed me is all and I mean everyone of the
kids wanted to split wood with the maul- 80 degrees and humid and kids
getting the biggest kick out of splitting wood........go figure
Fires burned great despite the humidity- the sight of 2 pits going with
a barrel smoking in the distance and a lake lined with towering pines kind
of took my breath away... great sight
Dinner time comes and the kids go to eat- went to get Jon and I some
food to bring back to the site- and while we are sitting there eating and
patting ourselves on the back we hear a whisper in the treetops across
the lake- Jon says that is coming towards us- no big deal probably just
Nope micro burst- think biblical here- starts with a sprinkle- then a
huge wind gust- then sheets of water- think buckets pouring down. Now we
were at a nice smoulder stage with the fire maybe 31/2 hours since
lighting so-
tarp goes a flying- we had to rip the sucker down and keep it from the
flames- buckets of water from the sky on orange- yellow orange heat-
nothing we could do- we tried getting some dirt on top of the fire but
just let it go after a huge lightening crack sent us running for the barn.
Hey- mother nature said hello- After the downpour letup we went back to
investigate the wreckage- no wreckage other than some normal breakage to
be expected! I couldnt belive it- and some of the pots looked really cool
color wise- I will find out Monday when I finish up my last week at the
camp and I collect and finish the pots and fill in the pits. I made sure
the area was clean of debris- tools put away and the fire had died and
left for home round 8pm- what a day
A couple things I came away with was to never underestimate kids- they
want to be a part of something. Never underestimate things outside our
control like the weather- its going to happen- sometimes in a big way- no
matter how many considerations we plan for, or put another way if you use
primitve firing methods you set youself up for all the experiences people
had when these methods were all that was available- it can also be a
thrill and a mystery. And I really need to get a digital camera for my
new computer that I am typing this from- I am kicking myself over all the
great shots I missed yesterday.
Sean Burns
Williamsburg, Ma.