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Field fires interrupt fire school

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By Stephen Lega

As hundreds of firefighters from across the state were participating in the Marion County Fire School, local departments were busy responding to three separate fires Sunday afternoon.

The Loretto Fire Department was called to a cornfield fire at 1:38 p.m. on Ruben Smith Road. They were assisted by New Hope, New Haven, Lebanon and Raywick fire departments. The Marion County Rescue Squad and Marion County EMS also responded to the scene.

By the time the scene was cleared at 4:40 p.m., the fire had charred an estimated 60-75 acres.

Loretto Fire Chief Tommy Hamilton said the cause of the fire had not been verified, but it appeared to have started as a result of someone burning trash.

"The dryness and windy conditions at that time led to a rapid spread," he said.

In addition to the assistance from neighboring fire departments, Loretto firefighters also received assistance from area farmers, who used tractors and farm equipment to help plow and disc the field to contain the spread of the fire.

"That was probably our biggest help," Hamilton said.

At one point, Hamilton asked for the Division of Forestry to be contacted because the fire was spreading toward a wooded area.

"We stopped it about 10-12 feet from entering a major wood line," he said.

While the firefighters were busy still working on Ruben Smith Road, they received a call that another fire was in progress at A. Mills Lanes and Spencer Hamilton Road.

Hamilton sent units from Loretto, Lebanon and New Hope to suppress the second fire. That one affected about five acres. The cause of the second fire had not been determined.

The fires also serve as a reminder to avoid burning when conditions are dry and windy. Last week, the National Weather Service had issued a red flag advisory, which means conditions were ideal for potential wildfires.