April 23, 2014 | Volume 101 / Number 17

Easter Blazes Send A Message: Fire Season Here Early

Burn Ban Put In Place; Grass Conditions Similar To Those Of Late Summer

A fire call came in around 5:10 p.m. on Easter Sunday. What started as a truck with a tire blowout, ended up with 455 acres of burnt grass. An old farm house, shop and out building were also lost in the fire.

Janet Bailey / The Courier
What a way to end a beautiful Easter Sunday. A vehicle lost a tire on Highway 24 north, about eight miles south of Opheim, and firefighters said the spark set off a fire in heavy winds that burned about 455 acres and three buildings at a farmstead, above, owned by Chuck Flickinger.  Firefighters from across the region were able to move some farm machinery out of the fire path, and farmers brought their tractors and one-ways to put up a fire guard.  But in the end, all that was left of the old farmhouse was the chimney. Smoke could be seen for many miles. – Janet Bailey

This fire is only one of many that have sparked over the last month. Long Run Fire Department Chief Bob Hansen explained that conditions are much drier than usual, which brought a burn ban into effect as of Tuesday, April 22.

"The current grass conditions are typical of what we see in September," Hansen said. "It's really dry."

A spark from the tire blowout caused the grass to catch fire, and the heavy spring winds caused the fire to spread rapidly. Hansen said that six units from Glasgow responded, with 12 firefighters. Three Opheim units, a unit from St. Marie, two Richland units and three Scobey units all assisted with the fire. Units didn't clear the scene until after 9:30 p.m.

Unfortunately, a second fire call came out on Easter evening. At 6:25, a second call came in out at the Fort Peck trout ponds. Around 20 acres burned there along with a garden shed. While all the units were responding to the Opheim fire, Fort Peck and Nashua fire departments responded to the second smaller fire.

Hansen said that they suspected a cigarette was tossed from a window, which caused the blaze. Currently the dangers of the dry grasses are causing more issues very early on. Typical fire season doesn't begin until July.

That is what led Fire Warden Dan Carney, Hansen and Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier to put a burn ban in effect. Hansen said that in 2014 LRFD has responded to 22 fires, the entire year of 2013 the department responded to 59 calls. It could lead into a very busy fire season this year.

While the burn ban is in effect burn permits won't be issued. This normally being the time of year weeds and debris are burned off to prepare for planting and clean up before the hot weather kicks in. It is important that those looking to burn, pick up the phone and request a burn permit. Permits are free and they can help give important information to those who might end up responding to a fire that has gotten out of control.

Those who don't get a burn permit can receive up to $500 in fines. Out of control burns could potentially be fined for the cost to respond and put out the fire. Hansen said that all you need to do is call Valley County dispatch at 228-4333 to obtain a burn permit, or you can go online to valleycountysheriff.net.

"If you're planning on burning, the first step would to call the weather service and ask about the weather conditions for the next six hours," Hansen said. "If there's any wind we recommend you don't burn, save it for another day."

With the dry conditions and strong winds the potential for a large fire is high. Hansen said that there is rain predicted in this week's forecast, which could help lift the burn ban soon, but anyone planning to burn needs to check if conditions are right and burn permits are being given out.

With dry and perfect conditions for a strong grass fire, residents need to be aware of anything that can create a spark. Something as small as a lawnmower blade hitting a rock could be sufficient enough to create a fire.

Vehicle drivers need to be aware when running over tall grass, smokers need to not throw cigarette buts out in dry grass, and burn areas need to have a cleared perimeter –  30-feet is recommended.

Hansen added that he wanted to thank the farmers and residents for supporting the fire departments with water, food and drinks to firefighters on the job and to the employers who allow them to leave their paying jobs to help out other residents in Valley County.

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