I am certain by the time this article is published, Iowa will have experienced several grass fires. I hope no one has been injured. The past few years have certainly seen a definite increase in this type of call nationally. Many point to climate change. Others will point out how we have moved homes into the areas these fires tend to occur. Regardless, as firefighters we do our best to limit the destruction caused by them. Prevention is the key. Educating the public and doing controlled burns can limit risk. When fires do occur, we will act. In many cases, it is not life threatening and it will eventually grow back. Calm down! Drive safely! Stay out of the path of the fire.
The first thing is to evaluate what is at risk. Is there a rescue that needs to be performed. Often people untrained in firefighting may find themselves in the path of a rapidly moving fire. Perform any rescue as needed. The next is to protect exposures. Are there any structures in the path of the fire. Simply wetting a structure or better yet, applying a class A foam blanket may do the job here. You may do a quick back burn or removal of fuel to provide a better gap near the structure. When engaging in this type of activity you are now in front of the fire. Be certain to have an exit plan. Position your truck to allow for a quick escape. Crops are also an exposure. They are also very volatile fuel. The surface to mass ratio combined with the dryness is often underestimated. Add even a light wind and this can be very dangerous. The best tool to fight this type of fire in most cases is a disk pulled behind a tractor. When utilizing a farmer to assist, it is best to have communication with them and no firefighters in the field with them! A firefighter on foot could easily be run over!
If a truck or length of hose can reach the fire then extinguish it. When this is not an option, we then reach for other tools to fight this type of fire. When working on foot the safest plan is to stay in the black, burned side. Small water backpacks with hand pumps work well. Shovels and rakes can be used to scrape the ground or remove fuel in front of the fire. Although my department doesn’t have any, I have seen fire swatters used. A tool that has gained some recent popularity is the portable leaf blower. It can displace the fuel and make the fire to lean to burn. I do have a few concerns with the leaf blower. It may displace a burning ember causing the fire to spread. I have also seen pictures of firefighters standing in the unburnt fuel using this tool.
Upon completion, the department should be able to…
• Identify fire prevention opportunities for wildland / crop fires.
• Discuss tactical priorities of wildland / crop fires.
• Identify resources for fighting these fires.
• Discuss your departments tactics for fighting these fires.
Scott Meinecke is a member of the Sheldon Volunteer Fire Department, Director of Safety for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, and field staff for the Fire Service Training Bureau. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org