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Care, common sense advised during brush fire season

GTNS file photo

Special equipment such as brush trucks are needed to fight brush fires when the burning of dead cover grass gets out of control.
GTNS file photo Special equipment such as brush trucks are needed to fight brush fires when the burning of dead cover grass gets out of control.

Landowners holding Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land are beginning to burn away the top layer of grass as contracted by the program, raising the concern for brush fires.

Henry County Emergency Management Coordinator Walt Jackson advises people to use common sense when they are burning. He said people shouldn’t burn if weather conditions aren’t condusive and should always keep a charged water hose at the ready. Jackson also strongly encourages anyone doing any burning to contact the Henry County Dispatch Center on its non-emergency line at let them know.

“That way we won’t have to dispatch the fire department every time someone calls in,” he said.

Fire departments have the option if simply imposing a burn ban, but this is usually reserved for times when conditions are very dry and even the slightest flame can result in a large section of ground being set ablaze.

Washington Fire Chief Tom Wide said all that has to happen for the yearly disposal of dead grass to burn out of control is for the wind to change or for the ground to be drier than anticipated. He said the people in the Washington Fire District are very good about calling to inform the department about a coming burn. He said some additional precautions can help keep the fire from burning out of control. “There needs to be a buffer strip around the outside of it,” he said. “They need to make sure they have plenty of help and fire extinguishing supplies. If it is extremely windy out, they should avoid burning.”

Through the CRP program in exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.

Wide said the area has not had many brush fires so far this season, and credits the moist ground.

Most burns are smaller and fire departments are able to bring them under control quickly, but some of the larger brush fires take several departments to extinguish. There have been instances where a brush fire has jumped a road or caught a structure on fire.

The Washington Fire Department uses two off-road vehicles to help control brush fires and recently purchased an all-terrain vehicle with a small water system to use while fighting brush fires.

“There is a lot of hand work to it too,” Wide said. “A lot of times a fire will get into timberland or something like that. It takes a lot of manpower. You are physically carrying water along with swatters, rakes and shovels. A lot of it is done that way.”

To report a controlled burn in Henry County, call (319) 385-2712. To report a controlled burn in Washington County call (319) 653-2107.