Propane vs. diesel mix for ignition

The Klamath National Forest is also testing oil-resistant gloves

Igniting piles with propane. Klamath NF photo.

In an effort to reduce their employees’ to exposure hazardous materials the Klamath National Forest is igniting piles with a propane torch, rather than a drip torch with a diesel/gasoline mixture. Their torch may be similar to this one.

For when they must use drip torch fuel, fire personnel on the Forest are also testing oil-resistant gloves used by oil field workers. We found Endura WaterStop/Oilbloc goat leather gloves on Amazon that are lined with Kevlar, which could be an added benefit for firefighters.

Oil resistant gloves
Oil resistant gloves. Klamath NF photo.

I have never used a propane torch for igniting piles or for broadcast burning. Anyone have experience with this? Or the oil-resistant gloves?

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

8 thoughts on “Propane vs. diesel mix for ignition”

  1. Bill,
    The Kootenai NF used propane torches when I started up there in the 1970’s. They worked fine, but with extended use they could frost up pretty badly, so a good pack frame was necessary. We used them for both pile burning and broadcast burning.

  2. When I was a burn contractor I had a large propane prickly pear buring propane torch run off a 3 tank system on the engine. It worked well for both pile ignitions and “flaming” smaller native landscaping projects.

    I also used back pack propane torches during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s for prairie ignition.

    Like commented earlier a propane system frosts up easily. Frame packs are needed.

    A HUGE safety issue with propane ignition systems are the rubber hoses bringing propane to the torch head. They can easily melt with catastrophic results. You need to soapy water test fittings for leaks on a regular basis.

    IMHO from having used both… the safety risks of drip torches are less than propane when drip torches are used correctly.

    Commandments like…. “Thou shalt NOT fill thy own drip torch.” Need to be enforced.

  3. Like Bob and Darrell we used propane torches on the Clearwater NF in Idaho. We had 20lb aluminum tanks mounted on Korean War era, formed plywood pack frames for pile burning and Rx burns. This was in the late 70s and early 80s. Our “bomb truck” was a 3/4 ton long-bed pickup that carried a 250 gal “mother tank” to refill our tanks. We routinely burned 100-200 acre clear cuts efficiently with our burning crew. Each firefighter carried a radio and would be directed by the burn boss who who always had a high vantage point of seeing who was moving too slowly or too quickly during the burn. Keep in mind that these units were very steep with crazy and deep slash throughout. Our on-site plans and safety sessions were intense and thorough. The only time we picked up drip torches were on wildfires during burnouts. On another more hazardous note we burned piles on the Salmon NF in the mid to late 70s with a burn mix in Indian Pumps. We used wire coat hangers with a kerosene soaked wick out in front of the nozzle as we pumped burn mix at the piles. So crazy and so dangerous but effective. We were young and did as our bosses asked.

    1. I’m surprised we all survived. We tried home owner type pump herbicide sprayer filled with drip torch mix with coat hanger wicks.

      I’m surprised we didn’t kill someone.

  4. I strap the tank on the back of an arc. Light up the torch and stick it into the pile. Will light piles in most conditions. Also good fir killing knapweed

  5. I’ve had quite a bit of experience using propane torches over the years, starting with slash piles on the Nez Perce National Forest in 1974 extending to experimental fires in black spruce in Alberta from 1985-1989. Definitely was a lot cleaner (and safer) device to work with compared to hand-held drip torches in my humble opinion.

    Marty Alexander, Wild Rose Fire Behaviour, Leduc County, Alberta

  6. We used the propane torches on the Palomar District, Cleveland NF, we’d put a 5 gallon tank in a green knapsack, on a pack cradle, or just hold them in one hand, they worked good for ignitions, but had the same issues and hazards as listed above.
    We would kid and say, here, strap this bomb on your back, and walk into the fire.
    We used them in conjunction with leaf blowers to get those wettter piles going.

  7. We still use propane backpack tanks with a “weed burner” wand on the Flathead NF. This year we burned over 900 acres with said torches. This was a new technique for me but I was impressed with them to say the least! First of all, no stinky greasy clothes and body when you get done for the day. Secondly, I believe the fuel cost is way better- 1- 3 gallon tank would last me until lunch. We have a 300 gallon propane tank we fill at the district and it lasted all burning season. I also think that it is just more effective. More BTU’s leads to way faster igniting piles so you get the work done more efficiently, especially when piles are bony or a little wet. My 2 cents is that it’s way to go, esp. in our climate.

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