Take care with burn piles this spring

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Residents off Spring Prairie Road between Whitefish and Kalispell had quite the scare Tuesday evening when a grass fire swept through their neighborhood.

A debris pile got out of control and burned more than 30 acres in its path, including a few outbuildings, a vacant mobile home and a vehicle. This fire was serious, with flames ripping across the field at an alarming rate. Luckily, no one was hurt and no homes were damaged.

The rapid response by our local fire departments and their efforts to contain the blaze before it engulfed the nearby neighborhood deserves the highest praise. Fire crews responded from West Valley Fire and Rescue, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Evergreen Fire Rescue, South Kalispell Fire, Smith Valley Fire, Whitefish Fire and Flathead County Office of Emergency Services.

Lincoln Chute of the Flathead County Office of Emergency Services summed it up well when he said the response was a perfect example of all the departments “working together as a unified force.”

The blaze is also a stark reminder that the valley isn’t yet dressed in its springtime green. Grasses are still brown and as dry as they were in the fall, creating a potentially dangerous scenario during open burn season.

Open burning began March 1 and lasts through April 30. Chute emphasizes that people need to be extremely conscientious with burn piles right now, and to be prepared for the worst.

The DNRC advises people to keep burn piles away from other combustible materials and to have fire extinguishing equipment nearby at all times. Piles should be kept a manageable size, and people need to keep an eye on changing weather.

Chute points out that even a slight breeze is enough to fuel a dangerous grass fire in these dry conditions.

Please, take time to be extra careful with burn piles this month — the consequences of a rogue ember could be devastating for you and your neighbors.

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