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Area grass fires keep firefighters busy

By Sue Sitter - | Aug 21, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT A Rugby firefighter hoses down a grass fire in southern Rolette County Aug. 16.

Area grass fires have added to already smoky air in recent weeks, keeping Rugby volunteer firefighters busy.

“Lately, it’s been busy,” said Rugby Volunteer Fire Department Chief Derek Bush. “We’ve had a couple of calls a week and then the heat throws another little variable into it. June was kind of slow. We didn’t have many calls in June, but once July hit, since the second week of July, it’s been pretty steady.”

“Some are minor; some are a little bigger,” Bush said of the fire calls. The department responded to two calls in three days between Aug. 14 and Aug. 16.

“They were both mutual aid calls,” Bush said. “We had to go help Wolford and then one was a mutual aid call for Rolette.”

Bush said both recent fires were caused by farm equipment. On Aug. 16, a hay conditioner touched off a blaze on dry grass and hay in southern Rolette County.

“The one on (Aug. 14) was a baler,” Bush said. “All the calls we’ve been on came from farm equipment on just dry conditions. Farmers have got to get out and do what they do but it happens. It’s all accidental.”

Bush said fires could start from “a spark from a bearing going bad or just a spark when metal hits a rock. Sometimes it could be hot exhaust from a truck. We haven’t had anything like that but it could be anything like that.”

Temperatures hovering near triple digits the weekend of Aug. 14 didn’t help.

“The heat makes it hard on the firemen trying to put the fires out,” Bush said. “We do have wildland gear (for wildfires outdoors) that’s a little lighter than our structure fire gear that we wear to grassfires. If we’re called to a tractor fire, though, we have to wear our structure fire gear because it’s that much hotter. So, that’s hard on the firemen.”

Bush said heat exhaustion could be a risk with heavy gear worn in the hot outdoors.

Firefighters “do a pretty good job of telling people when they’re too hot and they take breaks and get people to swap out for us but that’s just one thing,” Bush added. “You try to keep hydrated and watch yourself and the other guys. You just try not to overdo it.”

“There have been a few guys who’ve gotten hot,” Bush added. “It’s been nothing too serious. I got a little bit hot one day but you’ve just got to sit back, take a break and sit in an air-conditioned vehicle. You’ve just got to get them some water and cool them down,” Bush said of those suffering from the heat’s effects.

As for the fires, Bush said, “Everything that’s happened has been just accidental. Farmers and ranchers are trying to get their stuff done, too, and the problem’s just the conditions we have. They do the best they can, but it’s happening. It hasn’t been anything where people were out doing something they shouldn’t have been and a fire happened. It’s the nature of the beast for being dry.”

Bush said he hoped the number of fires in the area leveled off soon. “Eventually, they will,” Bush said. “Winter will get here eventually.”

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