Fires destroy 6,000 acres

By and


August 25, 2012 - 12:00 AM

Nearly 6,000 acres of land burned Thursday in a pair of mammoth grass fires that kept firefighters and other volunteers scrambling for hours to save several homes in harm’s way.
Two vacated structures did burn, one abandoned house near the intersection of Nebraska Road and 4800 Street; the other a structure near 3200 Street and Alabama Road.
The larger of the two fires burned nearly 3,200 acres along a five-mile swath through eastern Allen County, forcing the closure of U.S. 54 for about three hours.
The fire first was reported to authorities about 2:30 p.m. near the intersection of Minnesota Road and 4800 Street, Allen County Emergency Management Director Pam Beasley said.
Hot, dry weather coupled with a brisk south wind quickly fueled the blaze. The fire wound up reaching timberland three miles north of the highway, Beasley said, before it was contained by about midnight, although firefighters remained on the scene overnight and into Friday to monitor hot spots, with occasional flare-ups occurring.
The fire’s thick plume of smoke — visible from as far away as Iola — prompted authorities to close a three-mile stretch of U.S. 54 between Bronson and Moran.
The second fire was reported about 3:30 p.m. Thursday and burned about 2,500 acres in south Allen County, threatening a handful of farmhouses, Beasley said.
Because volunteers from Elsmore and Savonburg already were dispatched to the other fire in east Allen County, members of the Humboldt Volunteer Fire Department were summoned to this fire, Humboldt Fire Chief Kent Barfoot said.

RESIDENTS were evacuated from near both fires until they were contained.
The simultaneous fires “certainly taxed everyone,” Beasley said.
Barfoot said Humboldt firefighters were on scene for about two hours before other agencies were able to assist.
“We got through it in pretty good shape,” Barfoot said.
Others assisting at both scenes were volunteers from the Allen County, LaHarpe Rural and Moran departments, as well as crews from Iola Fire Department.
Offering mutual aid were volunteers from Anderson, Linn, Bourbon and Neosho counties, as well as law enforcement personnel, the Kansas Highway Patrol and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
A number of farmers brought trucks with water sprayers to assist. AgChoice brought in a large tanker truck as well. Neighbors and friends helped spray water on dried grass surrounding homes near both fires, successfully preventing homes from being damaged.
“It was impressive to see everybody working together,” Beasley said.

AN ALLEN County Public Works Department tanker and another owned by John O’Mara Jr., together holding about 20,000 gallons, provided a ready source of water.
They were positioned at Hope Chapel Assembly of God Church, just west of the fire that burned along the east side of the county. Later O’Mara’s tanker was dispatched to the south Allen County fire, Undersheriff Bryan Murphy reported.
Also, food prepared at the Allen County Jail was taken to Hope Chapel, which opened its fellowship hall for use by firefighters when they needed a break. Community Emergency Response Team members made cold drinking water available.
Sheriff Tom Williams said causes of the fires had not been determined, although a cigarette tossed from a vehicle driving along a county road might have started the east fire.
“We don’t suspect arson in either fire,” he added.
Williams said Mother Nature gave a helping hand in late evening.
“The wind died down,” he said. “That helped a lot.”

NOWHERE was the “neighbor helping neighbor” attitude more prevalent than at the homes of Jason Botts and Harry Maley. Botts and Maley live on opposite sides of Nebraska Road between 4600 and 4800 streets. Both of their farmhouses were in the path of the oncoming fire.
“I didn’t know what was going on until about 3:30,” Botts said. “By then, several people already were at my house. They fought like hell.
“I’m not sure how my cattle turned out,” Botts said.
Large grass fires also were reported near Kincaid in Anderson County and south of Fredonia in Wilson County.
Another fire burned most of the evening Wednesday and into Thursday morning in southern Bourbon County, Beasley said. Several Allen Countians provided mutual aid for the Bourbon County fire.
Rain expected this weekend should help curtail imminent fire danger. Allen County has been under a burn ban for more than a month.