DNR helps put out local peat fire

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 11/24/99.

Under normal weather conditions, a fire would sweep through a swamp, burning off the top refuse, and never reach the peat beneath the ground.

However, because of the dry weather conditions this year, the area is a tinder box. There is no moisture to prevent the flames from penetrating into the ground, igniting the peat bogs in many swampy areas.

Jeff Haws, DNR officer from St. Cloud, had a crew out near Paynesville recently. For a week, they worked at pumping water into hot spots along Copperfield Road east of Paynesville on County Road 34.

On Monday, Oct. 25, a fire burned more than 300 acres, destroying several round hay bales, trees, grasslands, and wetlands. Due to the dry conditions, the fire spread deep into the peat bogs.

"I think we have the fire out," Haws reported. "We have a special 48-inch nozzle for peat fires." The DNR fire fighters punch a hole in the peat bog, then pressure spray the hole, saturating the ground with water.

In a normal year, firefighters would not have been able to drive into the area to put the peat fire out. It would have been too soft and wet. In that case, the peat bog would not have burned. Haws added, "If the fire pops back up again, we'll be able to drive a truck closer to the area. We shouldn't have any problems getting close because of the dry conditions." Haws feels central Minnesota is the driest area in the state. "We get these dry conditions about once every 10 years," he said.

Russell Hunt, a neighbor to the burned wetland, has been helping Haws by checking the area in the early morning hours. Haws said the best time to check a peat fire is at sunrise.

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