Firefighters yield to impossible blaze
January 27, 2014
Fire investigators believe a fire at a wood-grinding business owned by Gary Koster started from a smoldering fire originally buried in a pit on Nov. 22. They believe Sunday night’s fire started from an ember that escaped the pit after it sank over time and created an opening. High winds blew the embers down wind to a large pile of wood chips.
Area firefighters met their match overnight Sunday when a colossal pile of wood shavings ignited about 2 miles southeast of Breda and cast a glow for miles in the frigid air.
The wood shavings - which Breda Fire Chief Chris Young estimates were in a 100-by-50-yard pile that stood 40-feet-tall - were likely ignited by embers from a November fire on the property near the intersection of 140th Street and Hawthorne Avenue, he said.
Workers had buried the burned wood shavings from the November fire, Young said, and the shavings continued to smolder and collapse underground. As the ground shifted, at least one hole formed, he said, and the violent winds of Sunday night whisked some of those embers about 50 yards to the new pile of shavings.
Sunday's fire was reported about 11:40 p.m. Winds at the time were sustained at 32 mph with gusts of 40 mph, according to the National Weather Service. It was about 1 degree Fahrenheit but felt like -25 with the wind.
"It was so cold, there wasn't much we could do with it except knock it down and keep it back from the buildings," Young said. "The water just instantly turned to ice. ... It would take millions of gallons of water to extinguish it."
The 30-some firefighters who responded to the blaze gave up the battle to completely extinguish it after about six hours. Young said workers at the site - owned by Gary Koster, according to county records - are using front-end loaders to break up the kindling to help extinguish it.
"It's going to continue to burn for a long period of time," Young said. "It could be weeks."
Lori Stork, who lives about a 1/4 mile away, said the black smoke from the smoldering pile consumed nearby roads, making it sometimes impossible to see as her 8-year-old son got on a school bus this morning.
Stork said the last comparable fire at the site was about nine years ago and that it took two weeks to clean the smoke damage from her home. She said her house might sustain some minor smoke damage from the current fire.
Firefighters from Breda, Arcadia, Carroll and Lidderdale responded to the blaze.
Young said the cold and wind made for "very, very miserable" conditions.
"We had problems with hoses freezing up, pumps freezing up," he said.
None was injured, Young said. A damage estimate was not immediately available.
Carroll's gustiest winds came at about 6:15 p.m., when winds from the northwest were sustained at 44 mph and gusted to 59 mph, said Kurt Kotenberg, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Johnston. The strongest gust reported in Iowa on Sunday was 63 mph in Creston about 4:10 p.m.
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