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Unique tactic helps squelch pasture fire

Staff writer

Most of the Hillsboro volunteer fire department’s training is for situations that rarely occur — maybe once in a firefighter’s lifetime.

Three weeks ago, Hillsboro firefighters conducted a controlled burn of a barn for a low-frequency and high-risk situation. They simulated a residential fire where someone is trapped in an elevated room.

“Nine times out of 10 it’s a child,” Fire Chief Ben Steketee said.

Firefighters practiced breaking open the top window of a house, that had been donated to the fire department for training purposes, after checking for signs of back draft. Then a firefighter equipped with a Scott Pack, a breathing apparatus, entered the upstairs room, searched for a tire representing a child, and lowered the tire to a firefighter waiting on the ladder.

The goal for the three-man ladder team was to lower the child to safety in two minutes. On the same property, a garage and barn also were consumed by fire when firefighters let it go.

When these unlikely situations do occur, acting fast can save lives — or at least property.

With a stiff wind, warm temperatures, and dry atmosphere, many farmers hurried to burn brush and grass on Thursday and Friday. A ban on burning unrelated to agriculture, enacted by the state to reduce smoke, starts in April.

“On Friday, there were so many that I lost count,” Steketee said of the number of controlled burns.

Two Lehigh area farmers were planning to burn a field at 230th and Bison roads. But, the farmers backed off after determining the field was too soft. They had decided not to start the burn when the catalytic converter of their truck ignited the fire.

Hillsboro firefighters responded to the call, with the farmers’ unoccupied truck trapped in the blaze. They brought the brush truck, equipped with 300 gallons of water, a tanker with 2,000 gallons, and the pumper with 500 gallons of water on board. Lehigh Fire Department was summoned when Hillsboro decided to do a back burn.

However, mud around the field made it difficult to reach the area to extinguish the flames with water. While still attempting to spray the fire from the inside of the blackened grass, Steketee had another plan to put out the blaze.

With the wind conditions being perfect for an unusual tactic, firefighters lit a fire on the opposite end of the field where the first blaze was started. The wind pushed the fires into one another, the force of which helped extinguish both blazes.

“It’s not a practice we’d use very often,” Steketee said. “It’s a risk; we’re lighting a fire. It’s something we train on more than we do.”

Steketee said the out-of-control burn near Lehigh was a fluke situation. It was the only call the firefighters received for a controlled burn gone wrong.

“These farmers, many are pretty good at what they do,” Steketee said.

Other fires

Hillsboro firefighters were called March 22 and 23 to multiple ditch fires occurring along U.S. 56.

Marion fire fighters also investigated three ditch fires during the same period on U.S. 56, Fire Chief Mike Regnier said.

Each of the fires occurred within the window of two days and was relatively controlled.

“If there’s a bunch of fires along the highway, it’s quite a coincidence to be cigarettes flicked out of windows,” Steketee said.

However, both Hillsboro and Marion firefighters did not find any incendiary devices at any of the scenes.

Last modified March 31, 2011

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