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Grass fire burns 130 acres near Stillman Valley

Published: Thursday, April 17, 2014 3:54 p.m. CDT
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A fire burned across this field just west of Armour Road near Stillman Valley on Friday afternoon. Photo by Earleen Hinton
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A Stillman Valley fire truck sits in the eastbound lane of Ill. 72 Friday afternoon. The state highway was closed while departments from several area communities responded to a large field fire. Photo by Earleen Hinton
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Flames dance in the air during a field fire east of Stillman Valley last week. Photo courtesy of Phil Strang

Well over a dozen fire departments turned out Friday afternoon to fight a grass fire that burned 130 acres east of the intersection of Ill. 72 and Meridian Road just outside of Stillman Valley.

Wind gusts of more than 40 miles per hour drove the flames almost faster than firefighters could put them out, Stillman Valley Fire Chief Chad Hoefle said.

"It was difficult to catch up to because of the wind," he said.

The very smoky fire made conditions dangerous for firefighters.

When chasing a fire in the poor visibility, Hoefle said, it can be very easy for a grass rig to end up in the flames without the driver even realizing it.

The fire swept though areas of timber, as well as brush piles, Hoefle said.

Despite less than ideal conditions, the fire crews, who remained on the job for four hours, were able to save the buildings of an old farmstead from the flames.

"The main thing is we all went home safely and no homes were damaged," Hoefle said. "We had a lot of help and they stayed to the end."

The fire was reported at 1:45 p.m., he said, and started from a homeowner who was burning off a prairie plot.

The wind-driven flames jumped Ill. 72 and began burning corn stubble between the highway and railroad tracks.

"We had to shut off traffic completely because of the wind and the intensity of the heat," Hoefle said.

That meant also rerouting school buses delivering students home from classes for the day.

Firefighters contained the flames before they spread across the railroad tracks into a large field on the other side.

Although it was the biggest, it was hardly the only grass or brush fire April 11.

Hoefle said several of the departments called for mutual aid could not respond because they were already on other calls.

At least five other grass or brush fires were reported in Ogle County before the Stillman Valley fire.

The Oregon Fire Department was called to a timber fire on the west side of town at noon and had barely returned when they were called to a corncrib fire, started by trash burning, on Honey Creek Road east of town.

Polo was called to a shed fire on Ill. 26, quickly followed by a call to Forreston for a field fire and few miles away on Freeport Road.

Another grass fire burned a large area north of Ill. 72 on the west side of Leaf River.

Hoefle said a combination of dry vegetation and strong winds have lead to an large number of grass fires this year.

"This has been our year for grass fires," he said.

The rain Sunday and Monday should offer some relief. However, homeowners should not let their guard down when burning.

"It would only take a couple of dry, windy days to dry out the corn stubble," Hoefle said. "The stubble will dry out much faster than the ground underneath. That's when the grass rigs get stuck in the muddy ground when you're trying to get to the fire."

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