It must be March in Delta County. Columns of smoke dot the landscape, a breeze carries an odor of burning, and the sound of sirens punctuates an otherwise peaceful day.
The burning of fields and ditches is considered essential to agricultural operations, and so it is allowed in rural areas of Delta County -- as long as the property owner first calls the burn line to ensure weather conditions are optimal. When the wind picks up, as it does many afternoons, a controlled burn soon becomes anything but.
When firefighters respond to an out-of-control burn, law enforcement is not far behind. In the case of a grass fire in North Delta on March 2, Officers Clint Swope, Cody Hammon and Nick Buffington were first on the scene. While his fellow officers contacted residents in the 800 block of 1550 Road, Officer Hammon grabbed a garden hose and began spraying the area behind a garage to keep the fire from reaching the structure.
The fire burned the grass around a nearby unoccupied home, then spread to a fence and a garage at 814 1550 Road. At this point, Officer Swope wrote in his report, the wind picked up and the fire moved north across the field and toward 824 1550 Road. After ensuring the safety of the resident of that home, officers again used a hose to spray the fire as it approached a shed.
When Delta firefighters arrived on the scene, the police officers continued to assist, unraveling a hose off the back of the fire truck and dragging it toward a field to the west that was now on fire and threatening a large wood pile and a structure. As more firefighters responded, the officers went back to speak with the property owners and begin their investigation.
It was determined Buddy Curtis was burning the ditch on his property around noon when the wind picked up and the fire spread. Once officers confirmed Curtis had called the burn line, and there were no red flag warnings, they decided charges were not warranted.
"Our officers did a fantastic job," said Delta Police Chief Luke Fedler. "Once they'd addressed public safety, they moved into firefighting mode."
Fedler said one resident suffered smoke inhalation and was transported to Delta County Memorial Hospital by ambulance.
Damage to fences, a garage and a shed totaled about $5,000.
A collaborative effort between the Delta County Sheriff's Office and municipal law enforcement agencies throughout Delta County has resulted in a proposal for a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund public safety. A PowerPoint presentation titled "Back the Badge" is starting to make the rounds at city/town council meetings, service club luncheons and other events.