Dead trees and pack rats challenge firefighters

By Rowena Plett
Peabody Gazette Bulletin – March 23, 2017


A spate of grass fires kept county firefighters on the run Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.


Lincolnville firefighters, assisted by Marion and Lost Springs fire departments, spent almost six hours Sunday battling trees and grass on fire in a pasture at 250th Rd. and US-77.


“We were in the middle of a red flag warning, so we weren’t messing around,” Lincolnville fire chief Lester Kaiser said. “We called for help right away.”


He said a portion of the pasture had been burned as a controlled burn the day before. He determined fire had spread into a line of trees on the north side of the pasture and had smoldered in a dead tree. When the tree eventually fell the next day, embers flew, igniting the grass and spreading the fire along the tree line.


“It got up in the trees, and we had to cut trees down,” firefighter Barry Montgomery said.


Kaiser said pack rats had made nests in the hollow trees, which added fuel to the fire.


“The ground fire was contained expeditiously, but trees were the main problem,” he said.


Montgomery said he got home before 9 p.m. but went back out after 10 p.m. and found a tree burning.


“It was a long day,” he said.


Brad Pagenkopf, Lost Springs fire chief, said his crew fought a grass fire three-fourths of a mile east of US-77 on 340th Rd. on Saturday afternoon.


Lincolnville brought a water truck, and Burdick Fire Department assisted.


Pagenkopf said it took about two hours to control the fire, which he estimated burned about 30 acres.


Other fires around the county included a “not-so-controlled” burn on Holly Rd. north of 120th Rd. at 2 p.m. Saturday. Goessel firefighters responded and were called back out at about 1 a.m. Sunday to extinguish a flare-up.


Peabody firefighters assisted Harvey County with a fire near Walton on Saturday afternoon, and Hillsboro Fire Department checked on a blaze that evening near US-56 and K-15 in a ditch behind Hillsboro Animal Clinic.


On Monday afternoon, Tampa firefighters were called to fight a controlled burn that had gotten out of control on Quail Creek Rd. north of 280th Rd. Marion firefighters assisted.


Kaiser said people who want to burn grass should watch the weather and looks two or three days past the day of the burn to check if it is going to be windy.


He said when they burn they should have adequate equipment and personnel and be especially watchful of brush or trees along the edges to make sure sparks don’t get into them.


As far as flare-ups are concerned, Kaiser said accidents will happen, but cleaning up thoroughly after a fire is important.


Pagenkopf probably spoke for all fire fighters when he said they are getting tired.


“It’s wearing us down and it’s hard on our equipment,” he said. “And it’s just beginning. I wish people would be sensible and just not burn.”