The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says a stinky, smoldering peat fire northwest of Mason City that once encompassed 15 acres appears to be under control. Peat is created by the breakdown of natural plant material in what used to be swampy areas. D-N-R environmental specialist Jeff Vansteenburg says the fire apparently was started by a hidden meth lab. He says it’s not a danger to spread rapidly like a grass fire. He says once it gets down in the peat it smolders because there’s not a lot of oxygen. He compares it to underground coal fires you hear about in Appalachia. Vansteenburg says it was the smoke of the fires that first drew complaints to his office. He says the peat fire produces a dank smoke that doesn’t smell good at all, and the wind was blowing that smoke into Mason City. Vansteenburg says you have to fight a peat fire differently than a normal fire. He says they’ve been in touch with the Minnesota D-N-R in Park Rapids, Minnesota as they’re more familiar with peat fires which are more prevalent in the peat fields in north-central Minnesota. He says their advice is to dig out the fire and roll out the burning peat. He says you can also flood the area if you have enough water available. Vansteenburg says employees of the Lehigh Cement plant used heavy equipment to dig out the fire and had it contained to two acres by Wednesday afternoon.He says it will be something they’ll have to monitor and keep an eye on for a few days to be sure it doesn’t start to smolder again. Vansteenburg says peat fires are very rare in Iowa. He says the peat is commercially harvested in parts of the state. He says near Lake Mills they mine it, sift it, and bag the peat moss to be sold in garden stores. He says most peat fires are started by forest fires and he says we don’t have many forest fires in Iowa. Vansteenburg says air monitors located on the north side of Mason City were not detecting any unsafe levels of particulate matter on Wednesday from the peat fire.
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