PLATTE COUNTY, Mo. -- Multiple fire units worked to put out a large grass fire in Platte County Thursday afternoon that started when a maintenance worker at the federal prison was mowing the grass. At about 8:30 p.m., FOX 4's Dave D'Marko reports that the fire had been extinguished, and crews were sent home. A bearing locked up on the tractor's mowing deck and threw sparks, starting the blaze earlier in the day.
By late Thursday afternoon, it had consumed more than 1,300 acres of land.
At about 4:45 p.m. Thursday, Dean Cull, Deputy Chief with Southern Platte Fire District, reported that the fire was about 75 percent contained. He said the 60 firefighters, many of whom have not had a break all day, stopped the fire on the north end.
"That was our biggest issue because if it got into the bluffs over here we'd end up being in Weston, once it got into these bluffs right behind you," Cull told reporters.
He said they had to stop train traffic on a Burlington-Northern track for about an hour because of the fire.
"It was near the tracks and we didn't want it jumping across the creek that was by the cracks," he said.
As they headed into the evening, their focus continued to be on the hot spots that remained and on the south end of the fire, near the west side of 92 Highway.
"Because this wind is really blowing you get some of these piles of debris and then the wind picks up and throws embers out and it starts all over again to places
that weren't burned," Cull said.
Woods Oil had to be evacuated because firefighters weren't sure if they could contain the fire there. They did, and Cull was confident Woods Oil would be able to move back in soon.
The town of Beverly was also put on notice for evacuation, 'but it looks like they'll be able to stay put,' he said.
Residents and businesses in the area stepped into the help the firefighters. Farmers brought in bulldozers and other equipment, as did Hill Brothers Construction and the Bureau of Prisons. About a dozen different fire departments including Kansas City, Mo., West Platte, Central Platte, Camden Point, Dearborn Edgerton, and Leavenworth helped fight the grass fire.
Firefighters expected to be out until midnight, 'mopping things up' and 'driving it, to make sure it's out.'
Cull said fighting a fire at night presents challenges due to visibility.
"Stuff on the ground is harder to see especially if out on foot; can trip and fall on things, so it’s a little bit more dangerous at night time. A lot of these trucks are equipped with really good lights," Cull said.
A few buildings also burned, but those were all abandoned. No homes had to be evacuated and no injuries were reported.
"It's a pretty bad situation. Lots of wildlife trees that are 100s of years old. Any time there's fire it's a bad situation," said Cynthia Cunningham, who watched from Woody's BP gas station.
Route 92 closed to traffic in Platte County due to the fire. The closure begins north of 45 Spur and continues to Beverly. Drivers are asked to take an alternative route like 45 Highway to Leavenworth. Centennial Bridge remained open and 45 Spur was still open. They expected Route 92 to remain closed until at least midnight.
Sean Janson, public information officer for the Federal Bureau of Prisons released the following statement:
On February 18, 1016, at approximately 10:15 a.m., staff were performing routine maintenance and grass mowing on the USP Leavenworth property east of the Missouri River. While performing the ground maintenance and grass mowing, a fire ignited the grass. Various fire departments quickly responded to the scene to assist with containing the fire. There have been no injuries reported. An investigation and efforts to quell the fire continue.