Slash Piles
Black Hills, SD
Slash Piles
Slash Piles
Words by Kyle von Hoetzendorff, photo by Daniel Wakefield Pasley

The term Slash Pile is evocative and ambiguous. Context is important.




‘Slash Pile’. It is hard for me to believe this wasn’t a term used by roadies during the Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction world tour. To what specifically it would reference has yet to be determined in an anthology of those times, but I have a few ideas. ‘Slash Pile’ could easily have been a term used by envious roadies when noticing that once again Slash was buried under a bevy of buxom and lascivious groupies. They could have said for example, “Man did you see that Slash Pile last night? How does that dude even breathe in there?” or, “Hey bud what happened to your elbow?” ”I slipped on the wet spot from that Slash Pile this morning and slammed it on a Marshall cabinet.” ‘Slash Pile’ could also have been used as a term of pity, one that plays upon Slash’s voracious alcohol and substance use as in, “Did you see that Slash Pile last night? Poor guy lost his top hat when he tumbled down the stairs of his tour bus.” I am confident that a future tell-all will get to the bottom of this mystery.




Horror movies in which the main evil utilizes some form of bladed weaponry to terrorize teen campers, a new-to-the-neighborhood family, or a hopelessly lost couple are often referred to as ‘slasher flicks’. In this context ‘Slash Piles’ could refer to the stacks of dismembered limbs, internal organs, and bodily fluids that our psychotic/haunted antagonist leaves in his murderous wake. This disturbing flotsam tells a tale of woe and let us watchers know that no matter how much we had hoped that our innocent and unsuspecting group of heroes would have stayed alive, the truth of the matter is that only the innocent and virginal character will make it through this hour and 30 minutes of a sharp edged terror.




Our society has a taste for wood; the fibrous resource is used in a wide variety of products including paper, houses, skateboards, guitars, and IKEA furniture. You probably already know this, but wood does, in fact, grow on trees. Wood that is harvested from forests in the Pacific Northwest is done so using a process known as clearcutting—when a large swath of trees are cut down at the same time and turned into the worlds myriad wood product. Forestry policies in the past century have sought to reduce rampant clear cutting and lumber companies now rework designated plots of land, planting new forests to replace the one that they cut down. They then stagger their harvesting process in order to give these commercial forests time to recover. You might have seen a clearcut in the past, a decimated area of land populated by stumps, bramble, and curious piles of branches, bark, and knotted bits.


You may have asked yourself, “I understand the stumps and the bramble, that’s easy, but why the piles, what mysterious intellect lies behind these constructions?” Well, my friends, these curious stacks of forest entrails are called slash piles.


Slash piles are created to remove unnecessary debris from the newly cleared forest floor, acreage, backyard, or field in order to reduce the potential for fire and to maintain vibrant and fertile growing conditions. The slash pile is designed for a controlled burn, and in a clearcut situation they are burned before new seedlings are planted on the forestry lands, leaving the clearcut spick-and-span for the next grove. Slash piles are not limited to grand commercial efforts; they are a pragmatic and important part of resource management no matter the size of operation. The gentleman farmer with a small riding mower and a chainsaw with a only a 12” bar may find that a single pile per season is enough to control his blow down. The number of slash piles needed is directly determined by the amount of debris one has, this is pretty simple direct correlation stuff here. In smaller, non-commercial, situations it is not uncommon to see the same slash pile used year after year as a specific and concentrated dumping location for the inevitable debris of property ownership; these piles may stand for years with out being burned, acting instead as a specifically fibrous and wooded composite heap.







You might be thinking, “Hey—I have some debris littering the grounds of my property and I am starting to get worried that it is reaching a critical stage where fire may soon become inevitable, before that happens maybe I should try this slash pile technique to help clear my land, but how exactly would I go about doing this? To an outsider like myself these piles appear to balance the discordance of random forest bric-a-brac with the uniform harmony of gravity, surely there are some techniques involved, it seems like only a fool would attempt to build a slash pile with out trying to uncover the secrets to its structure.”


This is a noble and inquisitive thought, and one that I had myself. With the power of the internet at my fingertips, I gave myself an afternoon to find an answer, and after just a couple of moments my research on Slash Piles bore fruit. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, an unlikely but competent resource on slash piles, put together this extensive list of tips and guidelines that is a useful resource for the novice and advanced pilers alike11Slash Piles – Int’l Association of Certified Home Inspectors aka InterNACHI. Happy slashing.


NACHI Guidelines on Slash Pile Composition and Construction


  1. Pile slash at least six months prior to burning to allow it to dry. Dry slash burns more efficiently and with less smoke than green slash.
  2. Remove all flammable debris, such as firewood, from the area prior to piling.
  3. Piles should be wider than they are tall. Some jurisdictions restrict piles to less than 6 feet wide and 4 feet high.
  4. Use a mixture of sizes and fuels throughout the pile. This prevents snow from filtering into the pile and extinguishing the fire while it is starting.
  5. Pile branches with their butt-ends toward the outside of the pile, and overlap them so as to form a series of dense layers piled upon each other.
  6. Do not burn wood that is especially thick, as it will take a long time to burn.
  7. Do not burn any of the following materials in slash piles: routine yard and garden waste, rubber, plastic, structures, construction debris, household garbage, materials that produce excessive smoke, commercial/business waste or stumps.
  8. Larger-diameter wood should be placed on the top of the pile, while smaller fuels should rest at the base.

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