ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
Hillsboro firefighters divided and helped conquer two fires Friday afternoon, a small one at a hometown store and a much larger one in neighboring Harvey County.
When Hillsboro fire chief Ben Steketee got the call at about 3:30 p.m. that help was needed to fight a reignited grass fire north of Burrton that first started Thursday afternoon, he and eight of his firefighters reported to the scene to offer help.
Altogether, more than 100 area firefighters joined forces on Thursday and Friday to battle the wind-fueled fire, which ultimately burned more than 8,000 acres of land but reportedly caused no injuries or significant property damage.
After Steketee and his crew reported to the command post two miles north of town, five of them reported to the field captain two miles farther north.
They were given their assignment and immediately started fighting fire, he said.
Steketee and the other three firefighters stood by at the post for the next few hours to replace crews as needed and to maintain communication between the command post and Steketee’s crew, he said.
Then, sat 5:31 p.m., the Hillsboro fire department was called to a fire at Vogt’s Hometown Market in Hillsboro Heights.
Fortunately, Capt. Ken Ollenburger and several other volunteer firefighters had remained in town for just such an emergency.
“(Ollenburger) decided he would stay behind-which was a good thing-in case there were fires in Hillsboro,” Steketee said.
So did the Marion and Lehigh fire departments, and both arrived at Vogt’s to offer their assistance.
But Hillsboro firefighters sent the other crews back to their stations once they discovered the fire was confined to several pallets of compressed cardboard boxes behind the store.
“Several of them had caught on fire, and the firemen got those knocked out pretty quickly,” Steketee said.
“And then they took quite a bit of time tearing apart the rest of the pallets making sure the fire hadn’t wormed its way in,” he added. “They had found trails of fire going into the cardboard, kind of like (into) a hay bale.”
The only damage was to the pallets and boxes themselves, Steketee said.
Steketee and his crew were released early from the Harvey County scene and returned to Hillsboro by 8 p.m.
Firefighters eventually subdued the grass fire, with the threat of a another rekindling suppressed on Saturday by snow flurries and sustained low temperatures.
Steketee said his crew was more than willing to act as Good Samaritan to their neighbors in need.
“We wanted to help because Harvey County came and helped us during our church fire-when the (Hillsboro) Mennonite Brethren Church burned down,” Steketee said. “And so we wanted to return the favor.”
He added that his department responded to the day’s events according to preestablished protocol.
“It’s one of those things that you plan for,” he said.
“When we go to a fire out of Hillsboro, we always make sure to leave at least one truck in Hillsboro, in the event that there would be a fire in town.
“It proved to be a good policy in a situation like this.”