Grass fire scorches oil equipment
A wind-fed grass fire threatened a house and damaged oil equipment south of town Sunday afternoon.
The grass fire caused about $10,000 in damage to oil equipment at the rural home of Dan Martin, 1621 N. 1650 Road.
Douglas County Sheriff's Sgt. Blake McCall said Jerry Korsten was burning pasture grass on his land at 3 p.m. when he lost control of the fire and it crossed to Martin's land.
The fire spread quickly toward oil barrels, processing equipment and water tanks located near Martin's home. Martin reported the fire to authorities, as well as neighbors, who because of heavy smoke, thought Martin's house and truck had caught fire. Neither the truck or house received any damage.
Firefighters from five different agencies, including Palmyra Township, Willow Springs Township and the Baldwin City Fire Department were called to the scene. The Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical hazardous materials team and the Douglas County hazardous materials team were called in because of the oil storage tanks.
However, McCall said much of the oil had been sold recently and the storage tanks were nearly empty.
"It was still dangerous," McCall said. "When you have oil tanks that are not completely full, you still have fumes in there. Fumes are a lot more explosive when exposed to fire than oil itself. "
A 75-foot ladder truck from Lawrence helped firefighters control the fire in winds of 15-20 mph. The fire was extinguished by 4 p.m.
Palmyra Fire Chief Randy DeMersseman said the fire had spread over 7 acres of land by the time it was extinguished, coming close to Martin's house.
"It was like two fires being fought at once," McCall said. "One group of firefighters kept the fire from the oil tanks, another group fought the grass fire approaching the house."
Most of the damage was sustained to the outside of the equipment. Martin told fire and sheriff officials that he did not have insurance on the equipment.
McCall said no charges will be filed against Korsten because there is no burn ban in the county. Korsten told authorities that he does have insurance.
"They only do that under extreme conditions," McCall said of ordering a burn ban. "It's an agricultural tool to burn off fields. A lot of people do that at this time of year."
McCall said the winds were blowing in the wrong direction Sunday.
"The wind direction was a big part of it," McCall said. "They were upwind of the oil equipment when the wind caught the fire and blew it straight toward the oil tanks. It might have been better judgment to choose a day with a different wind direction."
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