Douglas County firefighters and those from two neighboring counties battled a “complex” series of grassfires late Sunday afternoon along U.S. Highway 56 just northwest of Baldwin City.
Palmyra Fire Chief Randy DeMersseman said the fire was first reported around 5 p.m. at a site north of U.S. Highway 56 and east of East 1600 Road. His department, the Baldwin City Fire Department, units from Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical and rural fire department from Douglas, Franklin and Johnson counties would eventually battle three different fires in the late afternoon heat along one and a half miles of U.S. 56.
A stretch of the highway west of Baldwin City was closed to traffic for a while, and law enforcement officers rerouted traffic along county roads.
The mutual aid units were released about 9 p.m. when the only remaining flames were those from a backfire set to prevent grassfires from spreading in the event winds shifted or increased during the night, DeMersseman said.
One firefighter was taken to Lawrence Memorial Hospital for treatment from a heat-related condition, DeMersseman said.
“It was a very complex fire,” he said. “The reason we called in so much help was because of the heat and the amount of fuel out there.”
Those in vehicles passing by during the fire handed out bottled water to firefighters, and one property owner brought water, too.
“It was a group effort, and a very impressive group effort,” he said.
No structures were lost in the fire, DeMersseman said. A double-crop soybean field planted in wheat stubble was destroyed in the easternmost part of the fire, he said. That fire spread about a quarter mile north of the highway, he said.
DeMersseman said the cause of the fires wasn’t known but added that there was plentiful fuel for grassfires in the current dry conditions.
“We have no evidence of what started the fires,” he said. “This is what could happen day or night with just the smallest fire.
“We don’t have a burn ban in the county. Everybody has been hoping we’d have significant rainfall. There’s a lot of fuel along the roadsides that just needs a little spark. Everybody needs to be very, very careful.”