Seven grass and field fires broke out across Noble County in an eight hour period Wednesday, October 20, as a continued dry spell contributed to a dozen such incidents during the week. Injuries and property damage resulted from the wind-blown blazes, which mostly started with controlled burns that blew out of control.
A busy week actually began Tuesday, when Albion fire trucks were called to a field fire near 1455 E Baseline Road. Fire burned a wood pile and less than an acre of grass in that area, and although the flames threatened a barn, nine firefighters manning four units brought the blaze under control after about 20 minutes.
Fire units dashed from scene to scene Thursday afternoon. One of the worst fires began along Westwood Drive near Ligonier, starting at about 1:25 p.m. when Sheriff's Department dispatchers began receiving numerous calls of more than one fire spreading into fields and endangering homes in the area. One caller reported trying to put out a grass fire behind his house, but gusty winds blew flames out of control into a front that eventually scorched over an area about half a mile long.
Ligonier firefighters called for backup, and soon four wheel drive brush trucks responded from the Cromwell and Topeka Fire Departments. Topeka later sent manpower and a water tanker, while two Elkhart County fire departments, Benton Township and Clinton Township, sent more trucks. Within half an hour more brush trucks were called out from the Albion and Orange Township fire departments, which later sent additional help. About fifty firefighters ultimately helped in the battle.
While firefighters tried to cut off the blaze, Ligonier Police and Noble County EMS personnel helped to evacuate local residents endangered by the smoke and flame front. Medics also treated a Cromwell firefighter for possible smoke inhalation.
Over ten acres of three harvested fields reportedly burned, and it could have been worse without the assistance of local farmers and a contractor, who used heavy equipment to remove fuel from in front of the spreading flames. Firefighters were able to protect area homes and a church, but a storage shed and a boat were reportedly destroyed by the blaze. Heavy smoke caused some local roads to be closed for a time.
At the time the fire broke out, Orange Township firefighters were already out at a fire of their own. That call, the first of the day, came in just after 1 p.m. and turned out to be a controlled burn that somehow remained under control, but hadn't been reported. More dangerous fires came in across the western part of the county while crews were still fighting the Westwood Drive incident:
Fourteen Albion firefighters were already committed to help Ligonier, so extra crews called for help from the Noble Township Fire Department when a grass fire was reported at 3644 N 350 W, at 1:34 p.m. Flames burning along a ditch line were doused within twenty minutes, so when another fire broke out in Kimmell at 1:42 p.m., an Albion fire engine headed that direction, for their third run of the day.
With local resources depleted, North Webster firefighters also responded to this fire, near Bortner and Hitler Streets. That blaze, which did not cause any reported damage, was brought under control in about fifteen minutes.
The cross-county mutual aid was paid forward at 2:12 p.m., when Noble Township fire trucks were called to a grass fire along SR 9, just south of the border into Whitley County. Two Noble Township trucks responded, returning to service just under an hour later.
As they returned to base, Orange Township firefighters were called to a hay fire in a field just west of the Sylvan Springs complex, which suffered a structure fire earlier in the week. That call came in at 3:11 p.m., with units returning to service an hour afterward.
The day finished out with a wildland fire at 5189 S 800 E. It was extinguished in just over half an hour by LaOtto firefighters, who were called out at 4:07 p.m. Churubusco fire units stood by to cover empty stations while that fire was being fought.
Although the wind faded a bit, it was still strong enough to push another Ligonier area fire out of control Thursday. Ligonier and Cromwell firefighters came out at 9:41 p.m., and it was almost midnight before they finished cleaning up and cleared their station. Two more grass fires were reported to Sheriff’s dispatchers on Friday, and another on Sunday.
Nineteen car-deer accidents were reported to the Noble County Sheriff’s Department over a six day period last week, the number increasing in pace with harvest and hunting seasons.
Heavier traffic and faster speeds makes state highways a hotbed for the crashes. Two deer were hit on SR 8, one of them on the east edge of Albion near CR 150 E. Three car-deer crashes happened on SR 9, and three more on US 6, with two others on SR 3 and one of SR 5. Two more happened on US 33: one near Wolf Lake, and another near the Whitley County line.
No injuries were reported in any of the accidents.
Drivers are reminded to be particularly cautious when driving this time of year, especially around dawn or dusk, when deer are most on the move.