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Smoke chokes county, draws responders

Staff writer

Smoke from a 15 square mile blaze near Burrton intertwined with smoke from a massive 75-mile wildfire along the Kansas/Oklahoma border near Medicine Lodge, and followed a weather front up through Goessel, inundating large portions of the county with fog-like vapors March 23.

Particulate ash was seen falling in many parts of the county. The sun took on an ominous red glow and disappeared altogether in western portions of the county.

“The smoke was enough to show up on radar,” Marion County Emergency Management director Randy Frank said.

Eric Schrag, CEO Administrator of Bethesda Home in Goessel, said the smoke “looked really ominous and smelled really strong” but didn’t really affect residents because they closed windows and have a closed heating and cooling system.

Frank said 18 county firefighters contributed time and effort to the Burrton blaze.

South Central Incident Management Team deployed Frank to the fire at 8 p.m. March 23, he said.

“It was a very active and fluid situation,” he said. “The fire was only 60 percent contained when I left the next day.”

Peabody Fire Chief Mark Penner and three other firefighters responded to the Burrton blaze in a brush truck and tanker truck.

He said his firefighters were part of a relief crew that was brought in after other firefighters, including six from Goessel, that had battled the blaze all night.

Firefighters from Hillsboro and Lehigh also responded to the fire, Frank said.

Penner said firefighters were split into task force groups and assigned certain areas.

“We put out spot fires that flared up in our area,” Penner said. “The most difficult thing about the fire was the sandy soil that was hard for trucks to traverse. There were people getting stuck. Two trucks, I think from Halstead and Newton, were consumed by the fire. The howling wind made things more difficult, too.”

However, he said no one on his task force had any problems, and the whole operation seemed to run smooth otherwise.

“We just had to be very aware of where we were driving,” he said. “Randy Frank was also a big help. He briefed us at the beginning of the day so we knew what we had to get done.”

Frank was part of the support crew stationed in the incident command area.

“I didn’t see much of the fire which was fine,” Frank said. “There were 107 firefighters from 21 departments there when I was there. The smoke might have caused a small health hazard for some people in our county.”

He said smoke in the atmosphere also caused the sun’s extra red appearance.

On Friday, Frank, two Tampa, and two Durham firefighters responded to the ongoing fire near Medicine Lodge.

Frank said Lincolnville Fire Chief Lester Kaiser was deployed by Homeland Security as a member of a type-3 fire response team.

Frank again worked in incident command, focusing on keeping tallies on where everyone was at for safety reasons, he said. Frank returned to Marion County on Sunday.

Last modified March 31, 2016

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