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The remains of a motorhome are all that's left of one of the camps destroyed by fire at the Wildridge RV Resort near Patoka Lake. Photo by Lee Cable

Dry conditions spark fires

November 03, 2010
A fire last week at the Wildridge RV Resort near Patoka Lake destroyed several camps, including campers, cabins and other property, before firefighters could bring the fire under control.

The fire was discovered in the early morning hours on Oct. 26, and the English Volunteer Fire Department was the first on the scene.

Mike King, of the Leavenworth Volunteer Fire Department, knocks down one of several small fires that popped up along a half-mile stretch of S.R. 62 west of Leavenworth on Thursday afternoon. The cause of the fires was undetermined. Photo by Wade Bell
"We called the Celestine Fire Department for assistance almost immediately," Mike Benham, assistant chief of the English department, said. "There were no fire hydrants anywhere near the site of the fire. There was one near the entrance to the resort, but we still had to haul it back to the fire in tankers.

"We were able to get the Marengo and Birdseye fire departments to bring tankers for hauling water and that helped us," he said. "But we were competing with 30-to-40-mile-an-hour wind gusts, as well. Plus, there were several propane tanks blowing during the fire, and those set other things on fire. But, fortunately, no one was injured."

Once the first camp started burning, the wind quickly spread the fire to adjoining camps and RVs, and, by the time the fire was brought under control, six camps with either buildings or RVs or both had been leveled and two other camps and the structures on them were badly damaged. Fishing boats and one motor-home were also destroyed in the blaze.

"The camps there are in close proximity," Benham said. "And that is a problem when there's a fire like this. There were some really nice RVs destroyed. But it's a problem trying to track down the owners, most of whom live elsewhere and just use the camps for weekends and vacations."

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, and a state fire marshal will conduct an investigation.

Local fire departments have been called out on several field and grass fires in recent days, including several small fires that popped up along a half-mile stretch of S.R. 62 west of Leavenworth Thursday afternoon, and Benham continues to remind Crawford County residents of the burn ban that is in place.

"Our burn ban will remain in place for a while," Benham said. "There's actually a good chance that it will be with us until spring. We may have some intervals where there is snow on the ground, and that could allow us to relax the ban for a few days, but everything is dry. Most of the vegetation is either dead or dry, and we're making runs to put out field and grass fires almost daily.

"The burning of trash is illegal, even without a drought, but it could be that we'll have to take a look at making violations of the ban subject to a fine," he said. "In the past, during a burn ban, we have allowed campfires or recreational fires. But this time, even those are not allowed. We have banned every type of burning. People can use their grills, either gas grills or charcoal, but that's all. And ashes from woodstoves are also dangerous. Anytime you empty the ashes in your woodstove, you need to dig a hole, put the ashes in it, and water them down — actually soak them — to be sure there are no hot coals left."

Benham added that most small trees, under 6 inches in diameter, and most underbrush contains little moisture and is extremely vulnerable to even the slightest spark.

"If we had a fire get under a canopy of large trees, it could be disaster," Benham said. "We are not equipped — and I don't believe the state of Indiana is equipped — to fight that kind of fire. So, prevention is the best tool we have."

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