Despite occasional rainfall, season has firefighters busy

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Burning tips

Watch your fire. Pay attention to shifts in the wind. Douse embers.

Keep a water hose or extinguisher handy. Make sure it works before starting the fire.

Check to see what you can legally burn. In the city, it is permissible to burn yard waste only.

Keep fires small and easy to manage. Big fires generate their own wind and are more difficult to control.

Let the fire department know you're burning.

Wear protective gloves, shoes and clothing.

By Andrea L. Buchanan ~ Southeast Missourian

Firefighters say the same clear, dry weather that's inspiring people to get out of the house and begin yard work is the same weather that keeps emergency personnel on their toes.

This is the worst time of the year for trash and brush fires, says Cape Girardeau Fire Department Capt. Paul Breitenstein.

Even sporadic rain showers, like those expected today, only provide temporary relief.

"From now until things green up, it's just awful," he said. "Rain takes care of things for a day or so, but as soon as the sun comes out, the light fuel dries out and we're back to square one."

Sunday, the fire department doused a dumpster fire at 17 Rivercrest and another trash fire at Broadway and Water streets.

One of the biggest problems is simple negligence, people not paying close enough attention to fires they've set.

"More often than you think, the grass catches and before you know it, there's substantial damage to neighbor's house," Breitenstein said.

For example, on Feb. 8, sparks from a burn barrel blew to a nearby lawn and caught fire. The ensuing blaze quickly spread to a neighbor's house at 911 S. Benton.

No one was injured, but the fire destroyed a shed and carport and damaged wiring to the house.

Was burning tar paper

Another problem is residents burning items other than yard waste.

Monday, Cape Girardeau firefighters raced to the scene at 225 North Sprigg, when residents reported seeing a huge column of smoke.

They found a man burning tar paper and other home construction waste which was producing thick, black smoke.

"Paper, trash and plastic is illegal to burn," Breitenstein said. Even scrap lumber is out of bounds for the burn barrel.

Also Monday, a fire on a neighboring lot spread to a business at 611 Good Hope. Pallets in a storage unit caught fire, but firefighters were able to put it out before much damage was done.

In Jackson, a burning permit is required for any fire more than 500 cubic feet, said Capt. Randy Davis, the equivalent of a volume of 10 feet by 10 feet by 5 feet.

"The best thing to do before burning is to let us know," Davis said. Yard waste like grass trimmings, branches and leaves are the only items residents are permitted to burn, he said.

In rural areas, controlled burns that have run amok are the biggest problem, said East County Fire Protection District Chief Jim Hanks.

He said residents are pretty careful when they burn, but sometimes changing wind patterns catch people by surprise.

"People don't realize how quickly things dry out with the wind," Hanks said. The wind can also pick up and carry embers, spreading fire that way.

A few precautions can make all the difference.

Hanks suggests taking good care of your water hose.

"Keep it drained, untangled and ready to use," he said. A frozen hose helps no one, Hanks said.

Another tip:

"Call the fire department early if things get out of hand. We don't mind going back if you put it out by yourself."

335-6611, extension 160

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