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  • Last modified 210 days ago (Feb. 21, 2018)

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Firefighters spend hours battling Sunday flames

Bigger fire sparked by tossed cigarette

Staff writer

A brush fire, followed by a grass fire Sunday afternoon, kept Hillsboro, Lehigh, and Durham firefighters busy until well after dark.

Hillsboro fire chief Ben Steketee said the brush fire, called in at 2:37 p.m., had been burning many days.

“It’s a brush fire that’s been burning about a month or so,” Steketee said. “It keeps on burning and keeps on burning and keeps on burning, so what can you do? We put water and foam on it to get it to calm down.”

Steketee said the landowner had done a responsible job when he originally started the fire. Although everything was done exactly as it should be, brisk winds Sunday afternoon fanned the flames and firefighters had to be called to bring it back into control.

Just as firefighters were wrapping things up at the brush fire, a call for a ditch fire came in, Steketee said.

“The call was originally on 56, a little west of Lehigh,” he said. “We got that just as we were leaving the brush fire, and we never got back to the station.”

The fire, which Steketee believes was touched off by a cigarette tossed out a car window, started out small enough but got large in a hurry.

“The wind ended up pushing that one about a half a mile north,” he said. “It was going fast.”

The fire passed a fence and burned into tall, dry grass and brush.

“I figured we were going to need help pretty quickly,” Steketee said.

Durham and Tampa firefighters rushed to assist. Tampa firefighters had just finished a ditch fire at 290th and Old Mill Rd. when they radioed Steketee to offer their help.

“We were very thankful for the help we got, and we worked until after dark,” Steketee said.

Besides firefighters, neighbors and area landowners brought equipment to help battle the flames, he said.

“If someone really is helpful, we like them to be there,” Steketee said. “Everyone who showed up yesterday to help us was very careful and very helpful.”

County emergency manager Randy Frank picked up pizza, paid for by the city of Hillsboro, for firefighters to eat while they battled the fire until 7:19 p.m.

Firefighters managed to halt the fire about five feet before it would have reached very tall grass and gotten out of control.

“The fire on 56th and Chisholm Trail, I suspect it was a cigarette thrown out of the window,” Steketee said. “Any responsible landowner would know better than that. The landowners were telling us, ‘You’ve got to get this stopped before it gets there.’ Please don’t throw lighted cigarettes out of car windows.”

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture drought monitor shows nearly all of Marion County in severe drought as of last week, Steketee said county authorities rely on the National Weather Service grassland fire danger index, which takes into account more factors than dryness.

With the drought, some landowners are shying away from burning, he noted.

“I was talking to a landowner Sunday at the fire and he said he is just not burning this year because we haven’t had enough rain,” Steketee said.

Last modified Feb. 21, 2018

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