The brush fire is still smoldering on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Day 5, but officials believe there is still no danger to people or buildings.
The fire was discovered Friday night during a training exercise by the Edwardsville Fire Department. Groundskeepers at the university had been rolling logs, timber and other brush into a 30-foot-deep ravine in the woods behind Bluff Hall, and the pile had caught fire in the dry summer heat.
Multiple fire departments were able to contain the fire to the ravine, but were unable to fully extinguish it due to the topography of the area and the steepness of the ravine. Edwardsville Fire Capt. James Whiteford said there is still a pile of debris burning under logs, and firefighters cannot fully access it.
“We are doing hourly checks to make sure it’s not flaring back up,” Whiteford said. “It’s unlikely at this point, but not out of the question.”
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The location of the fire contributed to the difficulty in fighting it, Whiteford said. “It’s back up in the woods a little way,” he said. They could only get one truck close to the fire, and had to pump water to that truck from others, he said. The ravine is not visible or easily accessible from the roads throughout the extensive SIUE campus.
The best outcome would be for a good, strong rainfall to extinguish the last of the fire. “That would really help,” Whiteford said. But current forecasts show the chance of rain to be low until Friday.
We are doing hourly checks to make sure it’s not flaring back up. It’s unlikely at this point, but not out of the question.
Edwardsville Fire Capt. James Whiteford
The actual cause of the fire can’t yet be determined due to the firefighters’ inability to get down into the ravine. Whiteford said they have not yet discussed it with the groundskeeping crew that was rolling logs and brush into the ravine. “It’s not typically a bad practice, as long as it doesn’t catch fire,” Whiteford said. “They were covering it with dirt, but there was a big area that hadn’t yet been covered… once it’s buried, it’s pretty safe.”
The campus covers 2,660 acres, much of which is undeveloped woodland. It was not immediately known whether SIUE intends to change its practices for disposal of timber and brush.
SIUE spokesman Doug McIlhagga said that SIUE Police are supplementing the Edwardsville Fire Department in monitoring the brush fire to make sure it doesn’t get out of control again. Fire officials have maintained that the ravine is sufficiently isolated from buildings and people that they do not believe the campus is in danger.
In the meantime, Whiteford warned residents that any use of fire in this type of weather is a bad idea. “We are entering into the dry time of summer, so be cautious about outside fires and make sure to extinguish them completely,” he said. “Make sure that if it is a hot day or excessively dry, don’t have any fires at all.” That includes fire pits, Whiteford said; the potential for embers to drift and cause a fire is high at this time of year.