SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

October 16, 2012

Underground “peat fire”

August 11,2012

No way to put out underground peat fire

By Laura Arenschield
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

  See a video about the fire at Dispatch.com/video  .

KIRKPATRICK, Ohio — The field looks as if it has been bombed.

Black craters and burned-out vegetation cover the ground. Smoke seeps from underground, and on a windy day people can smell it 8 miles away.

But it wasn’t a bomb that has 15 acres of land smoldering in rural Marion County. It’s a large deposit of peat that somehow caught fire almost three months ago. Firefighters have no way to put it out, so the ground keeps burning.

  • “It will take most of next year’s spring rains to put the fire out,” said Clint Canterbury, the chief of the First Consolidated Fire Department in Caledonia, which covers the unincorporated part of Scott Township where the fire is burning.

The fire department started fighting the fire, which is slowly consuming 15 acres along Morral-Kirkpatrick Road, northeast of Marion, on May 27. At first, firefighters thought it was a grass fire. There hadn’t been much rain, and temperatures had been high. If a passing driver had tossed a cigarette, or exhaust from a tractor had spit just the right way, the grass could have ignited.

FRED SQUILLANTE DISPATCH PHOTOS    Clint Canterbury, above, chief of the First Consolidated Fire Department in Caledonia, examines the

But when the firefighters got to the field, their trucks got stuck in the soil. And even when the grass burned away, after several days of firefighting, the ground itself seemed to continue to burn.

“It’ll burn itself off. It’ll burn the roots, and then you’ll see flames,” Canterbury said. “It’ll just pop up out of nowhere.”

Mike Angle, supervisor of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Geologic Mapping Group, visited the field on Wednesday with other environment officials and examined the soil.

The burning area, under regular conditions, should be a wetland or bog, Angle said. It’s low-lying, and the water table is usually close to the surface. But the drought-like weather that much of Ohio has experienced in recent months has dried it out, he said. And peat, used for fuel as far back as the 1500’s in Ireland, burns easily.

It’s possible the peat caught fire spontaneously, Angle said. “It’s pretty rare, but decaying plant material lets off heat on its own, and then the fact that the stuff’s dark, it’s out in the sun, it’s 105 degrees out in June and it’s dried out. … Once the peat catches on fire, it just burns and burns and burns.”

The fire has burned away up to 2 feet of earth in some places. It has “jumped,” from place to place, sending up streams of smoke from nearby areas that had not been on fire. The fire is eating away at the peat — a woody, tangled substance that laces through the soil and clay underground. It’s cooking the clay, leaving hard residue like potters would find in the bottom of their kilns.

  • Canterbury said firefighters estimate it would take 1 million gallons of water to put out the fire, an amount he said would be impossible to gather and apply. Thermal gauges used to measure the ground temperature have topped out at 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, crops and people with respiratory issues are at risk. The man who owns the field, Terry Beers, farms about 200 acres of soybeans next to it. Last week, Canterbury pointed out a spot among the bean plants where the fire had begun to eat away at the land. Canterbury said he worries that Beers will lose the crop.

The field is along a sparsely populated country road, but Canterbury said he has had complaints about the smoke from as far south as Caledonia, about 5 miles away, and as far north as Bucyrus, about 8 miles away.

Angle also thinks there is little that can be done other than wait for nature to handle the fire on its own.

“What we need is a cool and very wet winter,” he said. “Now, if we get the opposite, sort of like last year, it might still be burning next year.”

larenschield@dispatch.com

@larenschield
ON THE WEB
See a video about the fire at Dispatch.com/video  .

(Is this stunning or what?   So what do you think,  just bad Karma?    I’m sorry. . .there are so many things in life I’ve never heard of – – and this is one!  This can make anyone shake a bewildered head.   Jan)

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