The Union Recorder


March 29, 2014

RICHARDSON: Burning the North Forty

MILLEDGEVILLE — For the uninitiated, “Burning the North Forty” was a term used by the lower, lower tier of Morgan County’s landed aristocracy when they decided to burn off a part of their pastures in the early spring. That exercise would ensure a lush landscape for the cows to graze on the rest of the year. Benefits however, do not come without some inherent risk; like setting off a wildfire that would run rampant over much more than 40 acres.

Daddy was in charge of this procedure at our farm, and I don’t think he was a natural born arsonist; it just kind of worked out that way. Our annual pasture burning activity inevitably turned into something more than was intended. The fact of the matter was that every time he set a fire it got away from him in a big way. An ill-timed puff of wind, extra dry leaves, or an inattentive son would allow the flames to gain entry to the woods and there it went.

My dad decided to dedicate the first Friday each March to “burning the North Forty,” and as an annual event it eventually became a local holiday nearly on par with the Cotton Gin and the Sunflower festivals. It was known far and wide as Ashy Friday (not to be confused with Ash Wednesday). The local populace would turn out in droves to see how many acres of woods Daddy’s fire was going to burn down that particular year. Raffles and side wagers were not uncommon. Had we been more astute in marketing this event we could have sold chili, candied apples and had a petting zoo. We would have made a killing.

Unfortunately not everyone was enamored with the occasion. The local fire departments lived in fear of that day. Volunteer members would suddenly be called out of town on urgent business in the days preceding the “burning.” Those still in town were prone to bouts of various illnesses the names of which sounded grave but actually lasted only a couple of days. Things got so bad that in the days before Daddy quit smoking all he had to do was strike up a Marlboro and fire alarms would sound all over the county. Firemen crews would show up at our house in full battle array.

To his credit Daddy diligently used every conceivable method to prevent these towering infernos. The most often used strategy was to space his sons strategically around the perimeter armed with pine boughs with which we were to extinguish any flames that were trying to make their way into the woods. Unfortunately we did not have enough manpower to cover all the possible points of entry, and sooner or later a big flare up would occur. We would rush to the scene of those rising flames but our little pine limbs were woefully inadequate and were fried to an extra crispy state in a matter of seconds — and the wildfire would be off and raging.

Some of our most famous blazes would make those you see on TV today look like a campfire. We actually went to naming them like hurricanes. Take Marilyn (for Monroe) as an example. We named the 1970 fire that because it was very hot and fast moving. That blaze was among the most renowned of all time. Still talked about to this day, it burned down 90 acres of woods, jumped over one beaver swamp, two ponds, and crossed three public roads before it fizzled out next to a plowed field. The betting was fierce that day on just how long the historic conflagration would continue.

Daddy eventually reaped some positive notoriety from these episodes. The U.S. Forest Service actually considered him for poster boy status but he lost out to Smokey Bear. I always thought that the slogan “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” was right down Daddy’s alley, or maybe I should say right down his firebreak. Alas Smokey nipped him in a close contest, but I still maintain Daddy got “hosed” in the voting.

Looking back on those extraordinary happenings it would be easy to conclude that Daddy’s “scorched earth policy” was a result of negligence or at least inattentiveness, but truthfully it was just an annual run of bad luck. I guess the moral of the story is that if you decide to burn your “North Forty” have plenty of pine boughs handy — along with some chili and candied apples for the spectators.

Alvin Richardson can be reached at


Text Only
AP Video
Dempsey: Putin May Light Fire and Lose Control In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites Anti-violence Advocate Killed, but Not Silenced. Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched Calif. Police Investigate Peacock Shooting Death Raw: Protesters, Soldiers Clash in West Bank Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' 'Modern Family' Star on Gay Athletes Coming Out MN Twins Debut Beer Vending Machine DA: Pa. Doctor Fired Back at Hospital Gunman Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Obama Seeks Limits on US Company Mergers Abroad Large Family to Share NJ Lottery Winnings U.S. Flights to Israel Resume After Ban Lifted Official: Air Algerie Flight 'probably Crashed' TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans Raw: National Guard Helps Battle WA Wildfires Raw: Ukraine's Donetsk Residents Flee
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
NDN Video
Bill Murray Continues To Be Just Bill Murray By Eating Some Free Bill Murray Ice Cream Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect Hillary Clinton Blamed Bill's Affair With Monica Lewinsky On Abuse He Suffered As A Child 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot Samsung Pre-Trolls The IPhone 6 With New Ad Jimmy Kimmel Introduces His Baby Girl