The director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says the National Weather Service was not in any way to blame for a fire that got out of control last week in eastern Iowa’s Benton County.
A prescribed burn was started by DNR staff near Vinton last Friday and was extinguished as the wind shifted, but a release from the agency says the fire re-ignited and jumped to at least three nearby properties. One landowner had several farm buildings that went up in flames along with several pieces of farm equipment and a 1960 convertible. No homes were damaged and no one was injured.
A spokesperson for the DNR had previously stated that the National Weather Service gave the DNR the wrong forecast. But, DNR Director Chuck Gipp says an initial review found the National Weather Service was not consulted prior to the burn in Benton County. Gipp says the investigation continues, but staff failed to follow certain steps of internal burn policy.
DNR PRESS RELEASE:
An initial review of the prescribed fire in Benton County on April 11 found the National Weather Service was not in any way in error and that certain steps as part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources internal burn policy were not followed.
“We never want something like this to happen and thankfully no one was injured and only minimal property damage occurred. The local fire departments did an excellent job responding and we will use this as a teaching point during our annual fire training,” said DNR Director Chuck Gipp.
The prescribed burn was going accordingly until the wind shifted. Once the wind shifted, staff began to extinguish the fire. The fire re-ignited and jumped to adjoining properties to the east. Once that happened, local responders were called in to help control the fire.
“The National Weather Service is a trusted partner of ours and they provided us with the correct information that we requested for Johnson County, but we failed to contact them for the burn in Benton County,” Gipp said.
The investigation found that staff had failed to contact adjacent residents and those in the area where the smoke will disperse, which is part of the smoke management procedure and Gipp said they will take steps to correct that through additional training.
Gipp said a full investigation into the fire will be conducted.
“We will not burn until we do these things in the future,” he said. “This is in our burn policy. We will revisit it and make sure our staff have a clear understanding of the importance that each of these steps have in a prescribed burn.”
The DNR uses burning as a management tool to help fend off encroaching woody species and nonnative plants in an effort to promote diverse native grasses and wildflowers. Burning removes the accumulated thatch and reinvigorates native plants by simulating what occurred naturally for centuries.