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Local fire season heats up

by: Photo By Holly M. Gill - A firefighter attempts to douse a fire in a trash can on July 5, at Friendship Park. The fire, which flared when hit with water, was believed to be caused by fireworks, and melted the plastic trash can to the pavement.


   Less than two weeks into July, firefighters from Jefferson County Fire District No. 1 have already fought at least a dozen fires -- and the season is just getting started.
   Although most of the fires were caused by lightning, on July 1, four separate brush fires along U.S. Highway 97 may have been human-caused.
   "They were somewhat suspicious because they were alongside the road and they were within three miles of each other," said Fire Chief Earl Cordes.
   Two burned about a tenth of an acre, one burned half an acre, and the largest burned about five acres, Cordes said. Firefighters were on the fires -- all reported between 11:10 a.m. and 12:12 p.m. -- for a total of five hours.
   The largest fire this month occurred on July 3, on the west end of Kent Lane, southwest of Juniper Butte. Firefighters spent two and a half hours battling the lightning-caused fire that was reported around 6 p.m.
   On the Fourth of July, firefighters had to hike about a mile up to the top of Juniper Butte to douse a lightning-caused fire that was reported around 2 p.m.
   The fire only burned about 1,000 square feet of juniper trees, sagebrush and grass. "We had some rain that kind of slowed it down," Cordes said.
   A brush fire on July 7 burned about 50 square feet on the east end of Baldwin Drive, and the following day, a burning barrel started a grass fire that burned about 600 square feet. The owner extinguished the burn barrel fire.
   Cordes reminded county residents that they can burn in burn barrels from dawn until 10 a.m., provided that the barrel is covered with screen with one-quarter inch holes. Dried grass and combustible materials need to be cleared for at least 10 feet around the barrel, and the fire must be supervised until it's out.
   "We're in fire season, so there's no open debris burning until October," said Cordes.
   Another fire on July 8 was apparently started by a spark from a fuse on a transformer pole. The fire burned about an acre of brush on Quaale Road, northeast of Madras, and took firefighters about two hours to put out.
   Lightning that passed through early Sunday evening caused two more fires. A 750-square-foot area burned southeast of Juniper Butte when lightning struck sagebrush around 6 p.m.
   Half an hour later, lightning caused a 12-acre fire in sage and juniper east of Madras, just west of Buck Butte. It took firefighters four and one-half hours to put that fire out, Cordes said.
   "Lightning's a little bit early this year," he said, adding that fortunately, most of the storm cells that passed through had moisture with them.
   County residents can make their homes and yards safer by providing a 35-foot buffer of noncombustible materials around their homes. Cordes recommends cutting dried grass and trimming trees so that no branches touch grass or sagebrush, and eliminating thick pockets of juniper or sagebrush.
   For suggestions on protecting a home from fire, Cordes said, "We will go out to property and make recommendations as to how they can make their home safe from wildfire."
   Call the Jefferson County Fire District at 475-7274 for more information.