Soccer fields evacuated for grass fire
A grass fire Saturday in Fairfield forced the evacuation of the Dexter Soccer Fields and a temporary shutdown of the railroad.
The fire began around 3:30 p.m. north and east of Winfrey Storage on West Grimes Avenue. Larry and Laura Miller, who live near the storage facility, said they called the fire department after seeing a large plume of smoke in their backyard.
“This fire was a little too close to the anhydrous plant next door and our back timber across the railroad tracks,” they said.
The fire quickly got out of control and moved east toward the soccer fields. The Fairfield Fire Department asked the police to evacuate the soccer fields, where games were taking place at the time.
The wind also pushed the fire toward the railroad tracks. The fire department called Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company to request it halt all trains until the fire could be extinguished. Fairfield Fire Department Capt. Lyle Hannes said firefighters drove one of their vehicles on the tracks to get closer to the fire.
“The fire burnt right up to the tracks,” Hannes said. “There was zero visibility there; we couldn’t see anything. Our truck just straddled the tracks and sprayed old railroad ties that had caught fire along the edge of the tracks.”
More than three hours after arriving on the scene, the firefighters were finally able to extinguish the blaze. Hannes said the hot, dry and windy conditions were conducive to a large grass fire such as this. Not only that, the fact that this particular fire was in a hilly area with thick brush and fences hamstrung firefighters’ efforts further still. Making matters worse was that some firefighters, as well as important equipment such as the department’s brush truck, were busy putting out another grass fire on the east side of town that had started an hour earlier.
Hannes said the fire crew showed up with its pumper truck, which was not ideal for the situation given the rough terrain surrounding the fire. The department also brought its four-wheeler, but the vehicle’s little tank and hose were not enough to control the conflagration.
“There was so much tall grass to deal with, and without a brush truck, we couldn’t stop it right away,” Hannes said. “That’s why we called Libertyville and Packwood fire departments. Both of them brought their brush trucks and tanker trucks. Packwood has a [John Deere] Gator with a portable tank and small hose, too.”
Dave Hollingsworth, Packwood Fire Department chief, said the Gator allows firefighters to handle the tough-to-reach areas inaccessible to the big trucks.
“The terrain and the brush prevented us from getting too close to the fire,” he said.
A team of firefighters attacked the inferno with leaf blowers, extinguishing the fire by blowing it toward ground that had already burned. Fairfield’s brush truck was on the scene shortly after 4 p.m., having come from the grass fire across town.
Hannes said there was no obvious cause of the fire.
“Nobody was out there burning intentionally as far as we know,” he said.
The past few weeks have been rough on the Fairfield Fire Department as it has gone from one grass fire to another. Hannes said the two grass fires the department tackled Saturday came on the heels of battling two big blazes the day before. He was glad to see Sunday’s downpour because he believes it will reduce the incidence of grass fires in the near future.