Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Feb. 5, 2001

Fire calls, car accidents down for Waverly, Howard Lake area

By Lynda Jensen

Numbers dipped for Howard Lake and Waverly fire and ambulance calls during the year 2000, compared to what could have been, according to local fire departments.

The driest conditions in more than a decade could have made things so much worse, said Waverly Fire Chief Mark Karels.

About 249 calls were taken for Howard Lake for the year 2000, compared to 320 calls in 1999, said Assistant Chief Tom Diers.

Waverly registered 104 calls for the year, Karels said. Of these calls, 74 were medical, 24 were fire related, and six were miscellaneous calls, Karels said.

This is actually somewhat average, but is surprising considering the dry conditions, Karels said.

"All the way around, it was luck," Howard Lake Fire Chief Joe Drusch said. It seemed like surrounding departments such as Montrose and Cokato were busy with more calls, he said.

"For some reason this year, we didn't have as many," Drusch said.

"People were more careful," Diers said. The fire ban imposed by the Department of Natural Resources didn't hurt, either, he said.

Car accidents down

Car accident numbers were also down for both towns.

There were 10 calls for car accidents with injuries in Howard Lake. That number is "amazing," Diers said.

There were fewer than expected car accidents for Waverly as well, Karels said.

Grass fires were also an area for concern, for those who remember the wildfires that ripped through California.

These numbers were also down, with 13 grass fires recorded for Howard Lake.

A summer so dry, the ground would burn

In fact, the ground was so dry this past season that peat fires were a concern as well.

Peat fires occur when usually wet, marshy areas become dry and start ablaze.

The ground will actually burn, sometimes as far as five or six feet below the surface, Diers said. Peat fires smell terrible, he added.

Peat fires can burn for a whole year, Drusch said. They look like miniature volcanoes, with smoke being emitted from the ground, he said.

Two peat fires occurred in Howard Lake, one in spring and one in the fall.

A peat fire in Waverly started from a campfire in Marysville Township during the summer and burned six feet below the ground, Karels said.

The Waverly fire department ended up drowning the fire, after digging several feet through the dirt, Karels said.

To fight peat fires, local fire departments will pump water underground.

Howard Lake calls the DNR to borrow a probe for peat fires, Diers said.

Although grass fire numbers were down, that doesn't mean area fire departments were idle.

Diers remembers when there were three grass fires in Howard Lake during one week. "It got pretty miserable," he said.

Memorable fires for Waverly for 2000 included a huge barn fire four miles north of Waverly, that called out five fire departments, said Waverly Assistant Chief Roger Karels.

The barn, full of hay, smoldered for quite some time, Roger said.

A fire that destroyed the Herb Ludwig house in late fall, located between Montrose and Waverly, is also a memorable fire for the Waverly department.

Ready for future fires

"With this wet snow, maybe we'll be alright in the spring," Drusch said.

The area has been fortunate, with the rains falling at the right time so far, he said.

Both departments feel comfortable, for the time being, with equipment. available to them

Currently, Howard Lake is in the process of accepting bids for a "bread box" style rescue truck. It will replace a model dating from the '60s, which was purchased a number of years ago from Dassel. Dassel sold it to Howard Lake when it purchased a new truck.

Waverly is in fairly good condition with equipment, Mark Karels said. "We are getting fairly well up to speed," he said. There are eight vehicles in the Waverly fleet.

Most recently, Waverly purchased a new grass rig in 1999, and a new pumper in 1997.

The Waverly department also has an arrangement with the DNR for a five-ton truck, which it started to modify, including mounting a water tank on top of it recently, Mark Karels said.

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