After a controlled burn spread out of control to several buildings, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources determined their staff did not follow protocol for controlled burning.
Several counties in Iowa banned open burning because of dry and windy conditions the week of April 7, 2014.
Benton County was not one of those counties that had banned open burning when an Iowa DNR team started a ‘prescribed fire’ on land north of Vinton on Friday, April 11. The flames spread out of control and torched fence posts, trees and fields, as well as three farm buildings and equipment inside them according to a report from KCRG-TV.
KCRG quoted DNR spokesman Mick Klemesrud as saying they relied on a forecast from the National Weather Service, and the forecast turned out to be wrong. The NWS had not commented on the remark.
“(T)he National Weather Service was not in any way in error and…certain steps as part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources internal burn policy were not followed,” said an April 15 statement on the Iowa DNR website.
“The National Weather Service is a trusted partner of ours and they provided us with the correct information that we requested for Johnson County, but we failed to contact them for the burn in Benton County,” said Iowa DNR Director Chuck Gipp.
The statement said there was no problem with the burn until the wind shifted, and when that happened their staff began to put out the fire.
“The fire re-ignited and jumped to adjoining properties to the east. Once that happened, local responders were called in to help control the fire,” the DNR statement said.
Glen Dale Geiger said he lost three farm buildings, a car, a snow blower, bicycles and several pieces of farm equipment when the controlled burn spread to his property according to KCRG.
“I think, ‘How dumb can you be to build a fire on a day like that?’” Geiger said. “I know people make mistakes, I’ve done them, but never something quite…nothing like this, that’s for sure.”
Their internal investigation also found DNR staff did not follow protocol to contact residents on adjacent properties, and others downwind where smoke would be blown.
“We will not burn until we do these things in the future,” Gipp said. “This is in our burn policy. We will revisit it and make sure our staff have a clear understanding of the importance that each of these steps have in a prescribed burn.”
Gipp said no injuries were reported and “only minimal property damage occurred,” the DNR post said.