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Brush fire consumes 1,500
acres of land
Firefighters battle through a wild,
windy day near the river

A scene from the brush fire on Thursday on Leavenworth prison property in Platte County. The fire raged for hours and consumed 1,500 acres of land.

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

A warm, extremely windy February day in a winter that has been dry made for dangerous conditions as a grass fire raged in Platte County for much of the day Thursday.

In all, 1,500 acres of land burned. All the acreage affected is owned by the federal prison at Leavenworth, according to fire officials.

“It’s the largest brush fire our department has ever had to deal with,” said Richard Carrizzo, fire chief with the Southern Platte Fire Department, the lead agency at the scene.

Eleven fire departments--as well as business owners with heavy earth-moving equipment--helped fight the blaze that started when a maintenance worker at the federal prison was mowing grass on the Missouri side of the river.

It is believed the fire began when a wheel bearing locked up on the tractor’s mowing deck and sparks flew into the dry grass.

It began about 10:15 a.m. The last crew left the scene at 8:41 p.m., according to Carrizo.

The blaze ate its way through hundreds of acres of land and put off a thick smoke that reduced visibility and caused dangerous conditions to the point Hwy. 92 had to be closed from the Hwy. 45 Spur to Beverly. Drivers had to take alternate routes, like Hwy. 45 to Leavenworth. Centennial Bridge remained opened, as did the Hwy. 45 spur.

Carrizzo said there was concern the fire would jump to the other side of Hwy. 92.

The wind was blowing at 25 mph with gusts up to 45 mph, the chief said.

Bulldozers were brought in during the height of the fire, courtesy of entities like Hill Brothers Construction.

“The bulldozers set up a fire line, trying to create a wider fire line by getting rid of all material that could burn through that line,” Carrizzo said.

Several outbuildings, all abandoned, were burned. There were no injuries and no homes had to be evacuated.

Train traffic on a nearby Burlington-Northern track had to be stopped for about an hour because of the fire.

Woods Oil, a gas station near Beverly, was evacuated at one point because it was unsure whether the fire could be contained in that area. But fortunately the fire never reached the business.

The town of Beverly was placed on notice but never had to be evacuated, Carrizzo said.

Seventy firefighters took part in battling the blaze, many of whom did not get a chance for a break throughout the day. The fire was eventually stopped on the north end.

Hot spots continued to flare up and were extinguished by firefighters into the night on the south end of the fire, west of Hwy. 92.

Carrizzo said his department was called back out twice the next day, once at 6:05 a.m. to put water on a smoldering brush pile and again at 5 p.m. when a passerby had reported smoke. Crews responded but did not find any evidence of a flare-up.

The 11 departments that were involved in fighting the fire were:

*South Platte Fire Department.
*Kansas City Fire Department, two chief officers, six pumpers, three brush rigs.
*Leavenworth Fire District No. 1, one pumper, one brush rig.
*Fairmont Township Fire out of Basehor, one brush rig.
*City of Leavenworth Fire, one chief officer, one engine.
*Fort Leavenworth, one tanker, one brush rig.
*Central Platte Fire, three brush rigs, two tankers.
*West Platte Fire, three brush rigs.
*Kickapoo Township Fire, one tanker, one brush rig.
*Camden Point Fire, one chief officer, two brush rigs, one tanker.
*Edgerton-Trimble Fire, one brush rig.