Burn, Barrens, Burn!
From the article “Burning the Barrens” by Ken Textor in the May 1995 issue.
For Spencer Allen, the first true color of spring is black. “When you get a good burn, you feel good, like you’ve done a good job,” admits Spencer, the soft-spoken field manager of one of Maine’s top blueberry processors, Orland’s G.M. Allen & Son. But his native reserve turns into shoulder-punching camaraderie when all the generations of the Allens get together and the talk turns to the annual spring rite of burning blueberry fields, which boosts the following year’s crop. G.M. Allen & Son is a real family business, but it’s a big business too, producing some 3 million pounds of low-bush blueberries every year. “We do burn up a few tractor tires, though, don’t we, Spencer?” snickers Jeff Allen, the company’s quality control manager. Everyone — including Spencer — laughs, hinting there’s more to that story. “We do go through some tractor tires almost every year,” Spencer admits later. The shifting wind will set the already warm tires afire in a matter of seconds. Usually the blaze is put out without much ado.
After several years working in real estate, Jeff Allen recently rejoined his cousin Spencer and three generations of Allens at their 104-year-old blueberry company. The Allens still get great satisfaction from a good spring burn — and yes, they still have the occasional tire fire.
Jeff Dworsky (tractor flamethrower); Douglas Merriam (cover)