Burning Silo — the inside story

I figure that sooner or later, someone is bound to ask about the name of this blog — what it is, or what it means. This is the inside story:

The Burning Silo

Used to have a very weird old wooden silo here on our farm, but it was highly unstable…just rising up a few stories high and leaning to one side… the lone remains of a once great dairy barn complex built about a century ago.

But the silo was a concern to us… mainly because there was always the possibility that the local kids might be playing around and have it fall down on them. So, about 15 years ago, when the volunteer fire department was on the lookout for old buildings to burn down for fire drill practice, we told them to go ahead and do the deed.

It was decided that it would be safer to ignite the silo in winter as there is a lot of cropland and forest around here. So, on the chosen date, with the snow anywhere from knee to hip-deep, the firemen came to burn it down.

Now, a small description of this silo is in order because it “matters” to this story.

You see, this silo was very strange… there are still a few of these left around the countryside…very, very old and intricate in design. Made of thousands of squared “sticks” placed in an octagon shape on top of each other, it went up layer upon layer, much as though it had been built of popsicle sticks.

Now, this silo was REALLY TALL. I don’t know exactly how tall, but probably the height of a 3 or 4 story house. And the top….oh…maybe…quarter of it, turned into a sort of plank “house” with a tin roof capping it off ..and this top section had a kind of a “doorway” that I suppose must have led into the loft of the big barn which had gone down a decade earlier.

OK, you’ve got a general impression of this silo architecture fixed in your mind’s eye… so we can proceed.

Saturday morning came, and all of the firemen showed up with a couple of fire trucks to do the big fire drill practice.

A couple of the crewmembers went into the silo to set it on fire…

Minutes ticked by with everyone standing around, and there were a few puffs of smoke, but no fire. After awhile, someone went back in and tossed some gasoline on the wood to ignite it again… but STILL it wasn’t much more than a smudge fire…

So, someone went back in and poured more gasoline on the wood… but still there was just a little smoke and not much fire…

Meanwhile, the natives were getting restless outside…standing in the deep snow with their heavy coats and boots and fire hoses.

Everyone began going up to the silo and yelling advice about how to get the silo to burn… You know…the usual stuff like:

“Throw more gas on the fire, Willy!!”


“Set fire to a whole pack of matches and toss it on the gas!!”


“Try fanning the fire with your hat!!”

And so, this was the scene… a bunch of firemen congregated around the big old silo, mired down in the deep snow… bored… annoyed… fidgety…

Well…just when things were about as boring as you might imagine they could be… the silo started to burn…

But, no…this wasn’t like some piddly little fire… No sirreee… I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this blaze… Sounded like a rocket-ship taking off…and that’s just about what it looked like too… A veritable APOLLO 13 out in the back forty…Or maybe a gargantuan TOWER OF FIRE exploding upwards… black-tinged fireballs shooting up towards the sky….. It was, quite simply, AWESOME!!!

And, of course… all of the “bored” firemen loitering around right next to the thing were suddenly sent plunging through the deep snow while trying to get to their hoses turned on and aimed to spray on the MONSTER FIRE.

Well, let me tell you… there were some mighty alarmed cries as the firemen scrambled through the snow because there was the definite possibility that the big TOWER OF FIRE… canted to one side like a fiery Tower of Pisa… might just crumple and fall over and nail everyone beneath it…

The situation looked grim… But wait!!

The BEST was yet to come…!!!

Picture, if you will…ant-like hordes of firemen with their dinky little hoses spraying pathetic little streams of water at this thing… the effect of which was about equivalent to a couple of men standing around urinating onto a 20 foot high bonfire….

But, while they were all occupied with their pathetic little fire extinguishing exercise… the massive updraft from the inferno in the tower suddenly beagan tearing at the roof of the silo and sent it blasting off into the air high above the ant men…..like a giant burning metal hang-glider… which floated… suspended above the silo for a few agonizing seconds before sailing out into a fiery death-spiral towards the snowy earth and the firemen manning the rinky-dink hoses below…

Well, you have never seen a pack of men hollering and screaming and practically trying to “swim” their way across the snow like a bunch of frightened frogs or fish. So much for the whole fire drill game. Hoses were flung aside as it was every man for himself trying to put as much distance between himself and the fiery roof that behaved more like an Evil Avenging Angel seeking retribution for being disturbed out of its wintry sleep by mere pesky mortals…

Fortunately, the roof smashed down to land in the snow at some distance from my neighbour’s farmhouse after beginning a trajectory that seemed sure to put it on top of their garage. Instead, it just lay there burning away while the firemen… now looking somewhat sheepish… rallied around to soak it with their hoses, having now abandoned the raging TOWER OR FIRE to focus their attention on a fire that they thought they might actually be capable of conquering. A couple of the bravest fellows, perhaps younger ones who still had a bit of adrenalin gushing through their veins, grabbed their broadaxes and took a few chops into the tin-clad flesh of the downed beast. Something about the scene put me in mind of a band of hunters who go out intending to kill a bull moose, but end up deciding to shoot and skin a baby deer instead.

Meanwhile, the Great Silo…(seemingly forgotten for the moment)…after burning for a few minutes, finally imploded…the massive structure going down in a manner reminiscent of the demise of the Sands Hotel. Just that air-swallowing silence of a gargantuan fire, followed by a great WHOOOOSH…and then nothing but charred matchsticks washing out to form a blackened circle in the snow…

At this point, the firemen moved in to shoot a few token sprays of water onto the Dying Behemoth… a little like rain-coated vultures finally moving in to take a chomp or two out of a great beast as it goes down for the count….

Well, it was pathetic…and just a little disquieting. Made me hope that I never have to call in the fire brigade for anything too serious.