In what firefighters called “tinderbox conditions,” a field fire consumed nearly 15 square miles–including burning one home to the ground–on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 17, between Donnellson, Coffeen and Taylor Springs.
The lost home belonged to Donald and Brenda Edwards on North 6th Avenue south of Route 185.
The blaze began at 1:19 p.m. near North 4th Avenue and Arrow Trail northeast of Donnellson, but dry conditions and gusty winds of up to 40 miles per hour quickly spread the flames to the north and northeast.
According to Christian-Montgomery EMA public information officer Joe Gasparich, the fire burned both field stubble and acres of unharvested standing crops. It jumped roadways and spread to an area nearly eight miles long and four miles wide.
The Shoal Creek Fire Protection District was the first department paged to the fire, but the scope of the blaze quickly required nearly 40 fire departments nine counties. One Shoal Creek firefighter was transported to the hospital due to smoke and debris in the eye.
“What started as an accidental spot fire along a rail line grew extremely quickly, and when it was all over, the fire reached approximately eight miles long,” Shoal Creek Assistant Chief David Caulk Sr. said. “Current estimates are that around 10,000 acres burned.”
While that fire was going on, other brush and field fires popped up, including one on Wonder Trail near Fillmore, another near Witt, one on Antenna Trail near Litchfield, and one near Raymond.
In spite of the manpower and equipment from fire departments from multiple counties, Gasparich expressed gratitude to farmers and other community volunteers for their support of those battling the blaze.
“Had it not been for the farmers, it might still be going,” Gasparich said. “Several of them knocked down standing corn to help us try to contain it.”
The Nokomis-Witt Ambulance Service set up a re-hab area north of the fire, and volunteers and local restaurants delivered food for those who were battling the blaze. Montgomery County Sheriff Rick Robbins appealed on social media for people to drop off drinks and supplies to the jail, and those, too, were taken to firefighters. The American Red Cross assisted with canteen services, and the Montgomery County Health Department provided assistance and supplies. Pilot Lindell Hardt of Litchfield and the Montgomery and Macoupin County Amateur Radio Emergency Services provided aerial support and communications to report information on the fire movement to those fighting it on the ground. Farm Service provided a fuel truck, and CHS provided a water tanker.
Firefighters battled for about eight hours, then were called back for re-kindles multiple times Saturday night and Sunday.
“I feel for the loss of the property owners, but I was inspired by the human spirit,” Caulk said. “These men and women dropped what they were doing on their weekends and came together with the same goal–to preserve property and protect lives.”
The Fillmore Fire Department responded to a sawmill on fire at 2551 North 325th St in Bingham at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14.
Seven members responded and were back in service at 7 p.m.
Members of the Nokomis Fire Department were paged to a structure fire at 415 East State Street at 12 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16.
Eleven members responded to the warehouse blaze and were back in service at approximately 3 p.m. Three members of the Fillmore Fire Department responded at 12:11 p.m. and returned back to quarters at 2:51 p.m. Additionally, personnel from Witt and Raymond-Harvel fire departments assisted.
The Fillmore Fire Department responded to a combine fire at 23225 Route 185 at 12:57 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16.
Two personnel responded to the scene and were back in service at 2:51 p.m.
Four members of the Fillmore Fire Department were paged to a field fire at 2850 Avenue and 100th Street in Bingham at 3:40 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16.
They returned back to service at 4:06 p.m.
The Hillsboro Fire Department responded to a brush fire near 8205 Walshville Trail at 1:07 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17.
Twenty-six members responded and were back in service at 3:30 p.m.
A ground fire just south of Route 185 required attention from several fire departments, including those of Montgomery County.
Shoal Creek Fire Department, as well as four members of the Fillmore Fire Department and ten members of the Coffeen Fire Department, were paged at roughly 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17. Additionally, 27 members of the Hillsboro Fire Department, as well as Nokomis and Witt personnel responded to the scene.
Firefighters were on scene until 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. According to the Shoal Creek Fire Department, the fire was eventually extinguished near Fillmore Road.
“The Witt Volunteer Fire Department responded to a total of six calls on Friday and Saturday. At times we had six of the seven apparatus in service and 24 of our 32 firefighters were battling fires somewhere within the county,” the fire department wrote on Facebook. “We ended with 26 total apparatus responses and 119 personnel responses.”
The local fire departments express their gratitude to those businesses and individuals who provided food and beverages for those working the scene, as well as local farmers who also helped contain the fire.
The Fillmore Fire Department was paged to another ground fire at 3308 Wonder Trail at 2:54 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17.
Three firefighters responded with mutual aid from Witt and Nokomis fire departments. They were back in service at 5:30 p.m.
Several local fire departments were paged to a few fire rekindles on Sunday, Oct. 18.
Members of the Coffeen Fire Department were paged to a rekindle at 12:37 p.m., where they stayed on scene for one-and-a-half hours, and another at 3:47 p.m.
The Hillsboro Fire Department responded to a rekindle on School House Road at 7:45 a.m. Twenty-three members responded and were back in service at 10 a.m.