Staff at the Burn Treatment Center at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the State Fire Marshal’s office say there have been an “alarming number” of deaths and injuries so far this year from brush fires.
In the past three months the burn unit in Iowa City has treated three people who were injured in brush fires and three others have died after getting caught in a brush fire. Ron Humphrey, a special agent in the State Fire Marshal’s office, is urging Iowans to check with their local county emergency management office before setting fire to a field or ditch.
“If a burn ban is in place or burn restrictions are in place, that’s usually who it goes through, or your county board of supervisors, and each county is going to be a little bit different on who handles that issue,” Humphrey says.
Some cities and counties have ordinances about open burning and there are open burning restrictions in some areas of the state due to air quality issues, plus Humphrey says it’s never a good idea to burn brush on a dry day or when it’s windy.
“And try not to burn alone,” Humphrey says. “It seems like when we do have these injuries, the people that are injured — they’re out there alone and get caught up in something and get hurt or killed.”
Humphrey recommends having the proper tools and enough water on hand to deal with the flames if they flare up or jump into another area.
“It’s not that burning is a bad thing. Burning can be good for vegegation to burn off the old stuff so the new can grow in thicker. You just need to do it properly.”
All three of the patients at the Iowa City burn unit who died in a brush fire were over the age of 75. The University of Iowa’s burn unit treats patients from the region and some of those six brush fire victims were from neighboring states. In April of 2009 Senator Chuck Grassley burned his leg when a small brush fire on his Butler County farm got out of control.