Thursday, June 03, 2010

Natural Firelighters

If we were truly environmentally friendly, then we probably wouldn’t be lighting fires just to warm ourselves and brighten up cold winter nights. After all wood cooking fires are one of the many contributors to the familiar murky brown line of smog that sits over Cape Town on fine days in winter, snuggling up to the mountain, after a run of fine winter weather, with sunny days and oh so cold nights. A spell of windy, wet weather blows it away and it is gone and forgotten till next time.

Sitting here on the farm the hazy tendrils of smog reach us too and yet we’re not ready to give up the joys of a roaring log fire to toast backs and warm hands before bedtime. Bedtime stories move to the sofa, so we can enjoy the fire a bit longer, before braving the chillier air of bedrooms and tucking up with a hot water bottle, bed-socks and extra blankets.*

All the kids, from an early age, have learned how to build and light a fire safely and take turns in the evenings. Our eco conscience is salved by the thought that we are only burning the wood from trees cleared from our farm as alien invaders. Our logs are Port Jackson, a tree from Australia brought to control the shifting sand dunes of our coast, which is now out of control and taking over fallow farmland at a rapid rate in our area. Our firelighters are also gathered from our property – the best natural firelighters in the world – dry pine cones. They really are the secret of lighting a good fire: two or three open cones nestled in the centre of a nest of newspaper with a tower of logs built around them will coax even the most sluggish of logs into action.

Every so often we lead a mission to the top of the farm, armed with bags. It takes no more than twenty minutes to collect all the cones we can carry and the pine trees are still loaded with more cones that will come down the next time the wind blows. The pine trees too are alien invaders, threatening to take over our top camp, but at least if we collect the cones we are slowing them down. We’re unwilling to clear them completely as they are the only full sized trees we have and they also provide us and our friends with Christmas trees. And where would we be without our incredibly effective natural firelighters?

Today I dragged the two boys unwillingly up the path to collect a sack-full, R. complaining loudly about the girls left ‘relaxing’ back home (Youngest with a sore knee and Middle daughter with a cough). I’d offered the services of our patent firelighters to the school for their St John’s festival bonfire next week, on the last day of term before our extra-long, soccer-world-cup winter holidays. Last year an immense heap of dead wood had been collected for the bonfire, but it wouldn’t burn, as the fire had been heaped higgledy-piggledy rather than built. It only really got going, (with the help of flammable liquid applications) after the kids had finished singing and throwing their wishes on to the sullenly smouldering fire, which was a bit of an anticlimax. So, this year I hope that our pine cone donation will do the trick and send those wishes merrily circling up into the air for the angels to read!

*Note for overseas readers - central heating is a rare luxury in South Africa, where houses are built for hot summers and we tough out the winter months dressed as Michelin men in the mornings and evenings. The kids often emerge from school in T-shirts at midday on sunny days laden to their eyeballs with shed layers of fleeces and jackets. The houses however stay fridge-like from May to September.


  1. Roaring fires during the cold Cape Winter months do bring back memories! Love your new look!

  2. Hey Kit -

    The blog looks great! Loved this post, and I love fires... must be the Sagittarian in me. I'd much rather be out gathering wood and pine cones than stuck home with a cold! 8-)

    - M

    P.S. I have a treasure hunt (with prize!) going on... come see!


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