Despite Burn Ban, Firefighters Kept Busy

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By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for area firefighters.
Since Mills County issued a county-wide burning barn beginning March 19, local fire departments have battled 17 grass fires all over the county, stoked by dry, windy conditions.

Due to the abnormally warm temperatures and several months of below normal precipitation, Mills County Emergency Management polled the local fire department chiefs of Mills County and the Mills County Supervisors resulting in a consensus vote to issue the burn ban.

All open burning is banned within Mills County until further notice under Chapter 100 of the Iowa Code. An application to burn can be obtained from the local fire department if your local fire official believes it is safe to do so. After approval of the permit, several county entities are informed to lessen the danger of false alarms.

“This is a dangerous situation and we rely on the public to assist us in this ban” stated emergency management director Larry Hurst. The conditions are currently favorable for a fast moving wild land fire that can destroy property and become life threatening if uncontrolled.”

Even with a permit, fires this time of year are still risky for property owners.
Embers from a nearby permitted burn are being blamed for a blaze that destroyed a barn near 175th Street in Pacific Junction last Wednesday.

Glenwood Fire Chief Butch Fidler called the fire “horrendous.”

“A neighbor to the south (of the barn) did a burn and with the wind blowing from the south as fast as what it was, it encompassed all of it,” Fidler said.

The blaze, which broke out around 2:45 p.m., spread quickly in high winds as crews from Pacific Junction and Glenwood attempted to get it under control.

The Glenwood and Pacific Junction crews were called back two more times throughout the night as embers rekindled the fire before it was officially extinguished around 2 a.m. Thursday. Fidler estimated the fire burned over 100 acres, including the more than 100-year old barn.

Another grass fire near Hillman road Sunday took fire departments from Glenwood, Pacific Junction, Hastings, Mineola, and Malvern hours to get under control.

“Glenwood fire had command and it went for nearly 12 hours with over six departments sending resources,” Hurst said.

“It was another controlled burn that got out of hand,” Fidler said.

Sunday’s fire resulted in a citation for illegal burning being issued to Cory Wiebel of Hamburg.
Monday evening, firefighters from several southwest Iowa departments were out again trying to tackle a grass fire in the Silver City area.

Fidler isn’t sure how many grass fires his unit has been called to in the last week, but grass fires this time of year are common.

“It’s always busy (this time of year) but if people would heed the warnings of ‘red flag’ days and not  burn, it’d be better. For whatever reason some people think they’re going to get by with it (burning); I don’t understand. The wind makes it hard and getting to some of the fires is difficult.”

Fidler said “red flag” days are when ambient temperature and dry and windy conditions are ripe for grass fires. He has turned down several area residents in the last week attempting to obtain burn permits.

“You need a burn permit to burn and I’m just not going to issue any, especially on red flag days,” Fidler said. “But they (burn permit applicants) get mad at you and yell. But burning on red flag days are asking for trouble.”

During a burn ban, Hurst said, citizens are reminded to:

* Avoid using fireworks and other items that produce flame or sparks.

* Not throw out cigarettes from moving vehicles.

* Discontinue the burning of yard waste, piled tree debris or other items during the ban.

* Small recreational campfires are permitted only if they are conducted in a fireplace of brick, metal or heavy one inch wire mesh. Any campfire not in an outdoor fireplace is prohibited.

* Violation of a burn ban can subject a person to citation or arrest for reckless use of fire or disobeying a burn ban.
For more information on burn bans and the law, contact the State Fire Marshal’s Office at 515-725-6145 or go to www.dps.state.ia.us or Mills County Emergency Management at 712-527-3643 or www.millscoia.us.
The county-wide burn ban will remain in place until damper conditions prevail, Hurst said.