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Lightning keeps firefighters on the run

Staff writer

Pasture fires came in threes this past week as seven Marion County fire departments battled blazes sparked by lightning, whipped by wind, and fueled by cow pies.

When Burns Fire Department Chief Barry Black and his crew arrived July 25 at Northwest 150th Road and U.S. 77 in northern Butler County, the skies were thick with smoke from two more grass fires to the east.

“We had a little storm come through and had three lightning hits, boom-boom-boom,” Black said. He didn’t hesitate to call for reinforcements.

“It got pretty big pretty fast,” Black said. “When you get on scene and you see it’s more than you can handle, you start calling.”

Florence, Marion, and Peabody were among 20 departments who joined forces to fight the fires, which demanded frequent refilling of water tanks.

“A lot of the grass units could run a half an hour to 40 minutes on a tank of water,” Black said.

“We refilled four times and went through about 1,200 gallons of water,” Florence chief Mark Slater said.

Firefighters had additional help to keep the hoses flowing.

“There were a lot of farmers and volunteers bringing water,” Marion chief Mike Regnier said.

“Maclaskey Oilfield Services had an oil field tanker running water,” Black said.

Cow pies confounded their efforts to keep the fires out, Regnier said.

“We thought we had it totally out three times. It’s so dry, and there were a lot of cow chips in there. They’d roll off into the grass and start it up again,” Regnier said.

It took more than four hours to extinguish the fires, but Burns firefighters weren’t finished when they returned to the station around 10 p.m.

“It was about 10:30 when we got called back out,” Black said. “The winds were light enough we were able to handle that without any additional resources.”

Sunday scorchers

Durham, Tampa, and Hillsboro firefighters were rousted from sleep about 1:30 a.m. Sunday for fires west and south of Tampa. Roxbury Fire Department also sent units to assist.

“We were paged out as possibly three different fires,” Tampa Fire Department chief Ron Mueller said. “We took the one that was on Indigo and 320th. We didn’t have any problem putting the fire out.”

Durham firefighters focused on the largest of the three fires, at K-15 and 320th Road. Towering plumes of smoke reduced visibility to near zero, and strong winds pushed the fire eastward at a rapid pace. Heavy rain eventually helped to quash the blaze.

Hillsboro Fire Department tackled the fire at Kanza Road and 300th Road.

“We had some difficulty with fences,” Steketee said, “and being unfamiliar with the area and totally dark we relied on the landowner.

“What really helped was when the rains came.”

Durham and Tampa firefighters made a second trip to this location when the fire rekindled later in the day. Steketee said the likely cause was smoldering cow pies.

“There were literally thousands of them,” Steketee said. “Once they start burning they smolder for a long, long time. It’s incredibly labor-intensive to put out each and every cow pie.

“Who has the manpower, who has the water supply to extinguish each one of them?”

More lightning ignited three small fires along the Marion/Chase County line on 80th Road. Florence Fire Department teamed with Chase County firefighters to contain the blazes.

“One of the fires was in our county,” Slater said. “It’d be nice to get some rain. As dry as it is it doesn’t take much for something to start.

“One little spark and it’s gone.”

Last modified Aug. 1, 2012

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