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Spring grass fires still hot topic

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 10:26 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 11:14 a.m. CST

Even though grass fires burn slower and at lower temperatures than other kinds of fires, they still hold a potential threat to the surroundings.

Grass fires are common in spring, especially in rural and dry areas.

Spring

This spring, there have been nine calls for grass fires, but three were false calls, and six were actual grass fires. Several of the calls were intentional burns that got out of control.

“Spring fires are usually caused by people burning off dead vegetation and it getting away from them,” said Todd Jackson, Creston fire chief. “Sometimes, we have it where it’s an accident. Eighty percent of them are intentional burns that get away in the spring.”

A common place for fires to burn is a ditch. These fires are caused by people burning off the ditch or from a lit cigarette tossed from a moving vehicle.

“The biggest thing is people who are burning their own ditches or (fields),” said Jackson. “It’s important they don’t underestimate the fire growth because usually what happens is they start the fire thinking, ‘I can handle this,’ or ‘I can control it.’ And, before they know it, it gets away from them.”

Jackson said people should be careful burning grass near trees or buildings that could catch fire.

“Timber is probably our worst condition,” Jackson said, “because it’s harder to get our equipment in the timber or the trees, and harder to extinguish them.”

Even though timber fires are not common, they are dangerous because the fire can grow faster or catch nearby buildings on fire. They can burn for several days without being fully extinguished and can even start new fires because of shifted wind and reignition of the fire.

Weather

“In the fall, we can contribute a lot of the fall fires to harvesting crops,” Jackson said. “Either combines catching on fire and catching fields on fire or things like that. Usually it’s not the burning vegetation.”

According to a story on www.accuweather.com, “with dry and warm weather persisting, the stage will be set for dangerous fire conditions by the summer, ... (and) beneficial rain may fall during April across portions of the Upper Midwest, including Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.”

Jackson said drought conditions led into spring, but that some snow in the winter helped lessen those conditions.

“It really depends on the winter. It depends on the spring as far as what we have for grass fire season,” said Jackson. “Some years, we don’t have much of anything. If it’s a really went spring, wet winter, we don’t usually see a lot.”

Ranger

The fire department has also been able to use the Ranger for fires for the first time this spring. The Ranger is an off-road utility vehicle.

“This spring’s the first time it’s been used for fires,” said Jackson. “We’ve used it quite a bit.”

The Ranger has a water pump on it and is able to get where the large brush trucks can’t, such as smaller or wetter areas.

“Especially now, because now that we’ve had enough rain, it’s going to make it muddy out in the grass and in the fields,” Jackson said. “Yet, it’s not enough rain that it’ll stop fires yet. So, we’re in kind of a bad time. ...So, that will be a time for the Ranger, make it handier.”

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