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Dry compost believed to have ignited 200-acre blaze

Dickinson County News - Staff Photo -
Photo by Seth Boyes
Seth Boyes - News Editor

A smoky haze wound through the trees almost 2 miles away Wednesday, after a grass fire was reported in the 2400 block of 190th Street east of Arnolds Park.

Milford Fire Chief Jim Carpenter said the initial call came in around 3:30 p.m. that day, and firefighters found a fire approaching some buildings, plastic paddle boats and a trailer load of plastic floating dock components.

"We extinguished that quickly," Carpenter said. "The grass continued to burn out. We had high winds to deal with and also terrain out there is really challenging. It's all gullies and with lots of moisture and lots of water running because of the time of the year and lots of slough areas to deal with."

Carpenter said a dry compost pile full of leaves and grass is believed to have been heated by the day's sun — and he said high winds likely helped ignite a flame which then spread to the nearby grassland. The blaze consumed an estimated 200 acres — pasture, farmland and conservation ground.


Copyright Dickinson County News 2023
Photo by Seth Boyes


No injuries were reported, but Carpenter wasn't entirely sure if the property owners discovered any damage to their items after inspecting them.

The Milford Fire Department was assisted by the Spirit Lake Fire Department, Terril Fire Department, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife burn crews, Dickinson County secondary road crews and Dickinson County Sheriff's Office. Carpenter said Arnolds Park/Okoboji Fire and Rescue was left in place so they could respond if needed on any medical or fire call in Spirit Lake or Milford during that time.


Copyright Dickinson County News 2023
Photo by Seth Boyes


Firefighters were paged back to the same location around 9:45 a.m. Thursday for a possible rekindling of the fire. Dispatchers said there were reports of flames visible along 190th Street.

Carpenter indicated the fire should serve as a reminder for residents to be wary of any open burning under current conditions — Dickinson County Emergency Management had reminded the public of high fire danger  and red flag warnings in the region for several days ahead of Wednesday's fire.

"It is very dry out there and they need to really consider what they're doing when they're burning stuff," Carpenter said. "This one was not caused by that, and the crews spent close to four hours — three to four hours — out there on this alone. It ties up a lot of resources for other things."


Wildfire burned 200 acres in Clay County on Tuesday

By Randy M.Cauthron & Celia Brocker, Spencer Reporter

Copyright Spencer Daily Reporter 2023
Fire crews battled a wildfire in southeast Clay County Tuesday afternoon which eventually burned an estimated 200 acres of public and private land. (Photo by Celia Brocker)


Fire crews with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Spencer, Dickens, Spencer, Ruthven and Webb fire departments battled a wildfire in southeast Clay County Tuesday afternoon which eventually burned an estimated 200 acres of public and private land. Staff with the Iowa DNR were onsite again Wednesday to prevent hotspots from reigniting.

The fire began on a dead-end road on the 1,500-acre Hawk Valley Wildlife Area and burned northeast to U.S. Highway 18, causing the temporary closure of the highway east of Spencer due to smoke.

“Hawk Valley is not on our burning plan for this year, and this was not a planned fire that got away,” Iowa DNR Wildlife Technician Lucas Straw said Wednesday. “We have fire protocol outlining when we can and cannot burn and wind speed is a big part of our decision process. Yesterday was a Red Flag Warning day, and we do not burn on Red Flag Warning days.”

The Red Flag Warning was in effect until 9 p.m., Tuesday and then again from 1-7 p.m. on Wednesday.

A press release from the Iowa DNR in March did list Hawk Valley among its list of burn sites.

"Hawk Valley is a fairly large wildlife area complex," said Rob Patterson, Iowa DNR wildlife biologist. "There’s multiple burn units within that wildlife area, and the particular burn unit that wildfire – that we did not light – got involved in, that was not one we had scheduled. It was a different burn. Our plan was to burn north of Highway 18, not south."

Patterson said crews saw smoke rising on the opposite side of the highway as they were going about their preparations.

“They did go down there to investigate what was going on, and at that time they determined no one was present, and that was an indication that this was a situation that was out of control at that time," he said

Randy Whalen, chief of the Dickens Fire Department, said the fire was reported shortly after noon and the crews battled the blaze for around eight hours.

“Right now, we are listing the cause of the fire as unknown,” Whalen said.

Approximately 14 acres of Hawk Valley were impacted by the fire, the rest was on nearby private land.

Anyone with information on how the fire started is encouraged to call the Clay County Sheriff's office.

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