burn the earth—(U.S. coll., dated) go at full speed:
- When they reached the brow of the hill, I was half a mile in the lead, burning the earth…
scorch the earth—devastate all buildings, etc. in an area so as to leave nothing to the advancing enemy:
- The Russians fell back upon their main line of defense, “scorching the earth” before this last convulsive thrust of the Nazi.
Note: Neither expression correlates in meaning with the phrase set the world on fire—(usually negat.) do smth. remarkable and cause a sensation (also: set the Thames on fire):
- She does the job adequately but she’s not going to set the world on fire.