April 20, 2014

Western Iowa firefighters use construction equipment to stop hay bale fires

Firefighters in western Iowa had to get creative to stop a large grass fire that got into some hay bales. Adair Fire Chief Jordan Smith said the fire Monday started about two-miles east of the Adair Exit on I-80 from a discarded cigarette.

Heavy winds pushed the fire east-northeast along and north of the Interstate for about two-miles where the flames jumped a gravel road and got into around 50 large hay bales. Smith says the hay bales are almost impossible to put out unless you break them apart and hose them down — so they came up with another plan. He says they asked  neighboring farmer who has construction equipment to use his excavator to dig  big hole — and they dumped the bales in the hole and buried them.

Three firefighters from Adair suffered minor injuries while fighting the fire.  “A couple of them just got smoke inhalation, nothing serious — they were checked out and just sent home to relax and take it easy,” Smith says. Another firefighter had minor burns to his face.

The thick curtain of smoke created problems for motorists along Interstate 80. Visibility along the interstate was down to zero at times. Several law enforcement agencies were requested for traffic control. Smith says firefighters from Adair, Casey, Stuart, Menlo, Anita, Wiota, Greenfield, Bridgewater, and Fontanelle were on the scene for about five-hours, finally wrapping things up at around 8 p.m. Monday.

Since there is no burn ban in either Guthrie or Adair Counties, Smith warned residents in the area not to do any open burning until there is sufficient moisture on the ground, especially when the winds are strong.

(Reporting by Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic)

One dead in Charles City apartment fire

One person is dead after a Charles City house fire on Monday. Firefighters responded to 303 5th Avenue at about 2:40 Monday afternoon to a large house that had been converted into apartment units.

A news release from the fire department says the porch and front entry of the four-plex was fully engulfed when first responders arrived at the scene. One person was later found dead inside one of the apartments.

The building, owned by Linda Brant of Charles City, was heavily damaged by fire, smoke and water, but no estimate of the damage was available. Firefighters have determined that the blaze started in a piece of furniture on the porch. The cause remains under investigation , but the department believes it is due to improperly discarded smoking material.

Officials are not releasing the name of the person at this time, pending the notification of relatives.

(Reporting by Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)


Owner of former Younkers Department store site unsure what can be salvaged

Authorities are asking for eyewitness video of the fire that destroyed the former Younkers building in downtown Des Moines over the weekend.

A team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the site to determine how the blaze started.  Younkers closed the store in 2005 and the 115-year-old building was undergoing a 35-million dollar renovation into apartments and retail space. Tony Garcia of the Hansen Company — the general contractor for the project — says his firm exceeded all fire code regulations for the construction site and all work that may have produced sparks ended by 2:30 Friday afternoon — 11 hours before the blaze was first reported.

“We walked through at 3:30,” Garcia told reporters Monday afternoon. “We walked the building again at 5:30, at which time all the workers were done for the day. The building was secured. All the doors were locked.”

The project’s developer is unable to say whether they’ll be able to salvage anything from the site.  Executives with Alexander and Company — the site’s owner — say they have never had a loss of this magnitude.

Body of man found in burned out vehicle in Guthrie County

A call about a burned vehicle in Guthrie County led to the discovery of a body. Deputies answering the 911 call discovered the body inside the burned out car and called in state investigators.

The State Medical Examiner and DCI determined the body was that of Bobby Joe Knapp. Knapp was the subject of a search by the U.S. Marshals Service which issued warrant  on him Thursday for a parole violation. The DCI says the vehicle where his body was found had been reported stolen in Waukee.

Fire investigators are trying to determine how the vehicle caught fire, and the medical examiner is waiting on lab tests to rule on Knapp’s cause of death.

Emerald ash borer part of discussion at weekend “Day of Insects”

An emerging threat was one of the topics of discussion this weekend at the annual “Day of Insects” event at the Reiman Gardens on the Iowa State University campus. The emerald ash borer, which is slowly making its way into the ash trees of Iowa was part of a display. Entomologist Laura Jesse, wore an emerald colored sweater to show respect for the tiny Asian beetle. “Really what you can admire about the EAB is the ability or good luck to come to a completely new continent, survive the winters, get established and start reproducing and you have to admire them at least a little bit,” Jesse says.

The announcement that Jasper County is has the ninth confirmed infestation of the bug out of Iowa’s 99 counties came just a day before Saturday’s event.  Iowa State University entomologist, Donald Lewis, was disappointed but not surprised by the latest confirmation. “I think of the old game whack a mole, where it just pops up in a new spot, that’s where it’s going to be forever, I think not osmotically across the state, it’s just going to pop up,” according to Lewis.

One participant hopes we have learned something. Daniel Wirth describes herself as a lifelong environmentalist. “Perhaps had we paid more attention to biological diversity when these trees were being planted we would have had a more diverse population of urban and suburban trees and not be in the position now of people are anxious to cut down every last living ash tree,”  Wirth says.

Entomologist Lewis expects the ash borer’s legacy will be similar to the Dutch Elm disease. “We’ll be talking about emerald ash borer 50-60 years from now in a reflective sort of a way — we had ash trees and now we don’t, and it was a shiny green insect that caused it, and then we’ll quickly go on and talk about the next problem,” Lewis says. Natural predators include wasps and woodpeckers, but entomologist Laura Jesse says they won’t be able to keep the bug from killing off Iowa’s ash trees. Jesse says the only thing that will squash this bug, is when it runs out of food.

Governor reminisces about basketball’s “Sweet 16″ in the Younker’s Tea Room

Iowa’s governor says the fire that destroyed the 115-year-old Younkers Department Store building in downtown Des Moines is “tragic” but he says it’s only a “minor setback” to redevelopment efforts in the area.

The Younkers store closed in 2005. The building was undergoing a $37 million renovation, being converted into condos and retail space, but it erupted into flames early Saturday. Governor Terry Branstad told reporters this morning at the beginning of his weekly news conference that he has “fond memories” of the store, including its Tea Room.

“I remember back when we had six-on-six girls basketball and the governor would get invited to the breakfast that the Des Moines chamber hosted for all 16 teams — the Sweet 16,” Branstad said. “The…band would play the schools’ fight songs and the girls would get up and sing their fight song and I also went to some wedding receptions and other key events there.”

A team of federal investigators will search through the rubble to try to find the cause of the fire. Branstad expects city leaders and the Wisconsin company that had been working on the building to come up with a plan B.

“It’s a tragic loss,” Branstad said this morning. “I know the city is committed to the continued revitalization of the downtown and this is a minor setback, but I’m sure that they will move forward and you know we’re very hopeful that the investigation will be able to determine what caused the fire.”

Three brothers opened the first Younkers store in Keokuk 156 years ago.  A second store was opened in Des Moines in 1874. The building that burned this weekend operated as a Younkers Department Store from 1899 to 2005.

“I think just about everybody has some fond memories associated with Younkers,” Governor Branstad said.

This weekend’s massive fire damaged some nearby buildings in downtown Des Moines, breaking windows and melting part of the exterior of one office tower across the street. Sunday’s high winds whipped debris from the fire as well as broken glass through the fire zone.

Thousands of chickens die in fire at Wright County facility

A weekend fire at an egg farm in northern Iowa’s Wright County has killed thousands of chickens. Officials with Centrum Valley Farms say the fire happened on Sunday at their operation in Galt.

Chief Operating Officer Steve Boomsma says in a news release that the fire started in a barn where about 75,000 hens were housed. Boomsma says in addition to that loss, smoke from the fire also resulted in another 75,000 hens being lost in an adjacent barn.

Fire officials continue to investigate the scene in trying to determine the cause.

(Reporting by Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)