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Fire marshal returns to Ellis County

3/17/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

and RANDY GONZALES

Hays Daily News

ELLIS -- Ellis County firefighters -- already weary from a weekend with six fires -- were called back out Sunday evening to douse flare-ups at the site of a grass fire that torched nearly 1,200 acres of land.

Four trucks were called back out Sunday, just hours after every fire truck in the county, and four from Trego County, battled a blaze that left a trail of black soot nearly 3 miles long.

It's not yet known how the fire started, but it's one of three that will be looked at when an investigator from the State Fire Marshal's office returns to Ellis County today.

"I figure probably about 1,200" acres, Ellis County Rural Fire Director Richard Klaus said of how much grassland burned. "It's 3 miles in length, from Homestead Road to 50 feet from hitting Buckeye Road."

The fire, he said, "started in the ditch on Homestead."

The fire was pushed along by winds of up to 40 mph.

The fire marshal also will be looking at two other fires in Ellis County. Both were relatively small, but no immediate cause could be determined.

One, on Dean Hill north of Hays, was a small grass fire. It was put out by a passing motorist, and the rural firefighters sprayed it down with water to prevent its spread.

The other was in the 1700 block of Emmeram Road. A trailer house used for storage and trees was damaged in that fire.

Causes of the three other fires in the county were immediately available. One began when a controlled burn got out of hand with the strong winds and another when trash barrels containing burned embers sparked a fire. A third near Precision Valley Golf Center, 1500 W. 27th, is believed to have been started by children.

As he was leaving the scene of the fire Sunday, Klaus said he's no longer granting permission to anyone wanting to conduct controlled burns, and he plans to approach Ellis County commissioners today and ask for a ban on all outside burning until rain falls.

"It's so dry, it doesn't take much -- a spark -- to get it going," Klaus said. "My guys are getting very tired, equipment's getting run down. We need to get a break from it."

Saturday's three fires are in addition to at least 15 others that are considered suspicious and are under investigation by the fire marshal's office and the Ellis County Sheriff's office.

Saturday's 1,200-acre grass fire, however, is the biggest one so far. Firefighters battled the fire until 4 a.m. Sunday, Klaus said.

"Somebody is going to get hurt on these fires," Klaus said early Sunday.

There were at least two trucks -- one stuck in the rough limestone outcroppings -- that got caught as the smoke and flames swept past the firefighters.

There were locations in the rough terrain, Klaus said, that were inaccessible.

"There were places you couldn't get to unless you had a four-wheeler," he said. "You had to wait for the fire to come to you."

Some of the limestone outcroppings left sheer drop-offs of 20 feet or so.

Klaus said his men and equipment are getting worn out with so many fire calls.

Three trucks need repair, and another one is unavailable to respond to a fire until it is fixed.

While Klaus said every fire truck from Ellis County was called out Saturday, he said four units from Trego County also assisted in battling the grass fires.

Three tanker trucks and two motor graders from Ellis County Road and Bridge were on hand, along with tanker trucks from Rebel Tank and M&D Excavating in Hays.

At least two farmers brought water to the trucks.