Marion County Village Suffers Through Peat Bog Fire

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The earth smolders at the site of an underground peat fire near Kirkpatrick, Ohio.(Photo: Sam Hendren, WOSU News)
The earth smolders at the site of an underground peat fire near Kirkpatrick, Ohio.(Photo: Sam Hendren, WOSU News)

In Columbus, an occasional hazy summer day is something residents have come to live with. That’s not the case in the tiny village of Kirkpatrick in northeast Marion County where smoke from a fire continues to blanket the area. Fire officials are at a loss to know what to do. And residents are praying for rain.

About a half mile from Kirkpatrick an underground fire has been smoldering for weeks. On occasion, especially in the morning, thick smoke blankets the community.

“It just fills the whole area so bad that you can’t hardly see the road,” says Charley Stark, a Kirkpatrick resident. “It gets that dense; hard to breathe, too. From the front door you can barely see the road, it’s that dense.”

Stark says the smoke has an acrid smell.

A burned out wagon

“Just smells like a campfire with somebody burning electrical wires in it,” Stark says. “When it first started happening, we actually had our windows open and in the middle of the night I thought the house was on fire.”

Mike Fogel the fire chief in adjoining Marion Township describes the smell this way.

“I smelt something like an old mattress burning I mean it’s a very icky, putrid smell,” Fogel says. “I can see why the neighbors are concerned about getting this straightened up.”

The smoke is coming from what used to be an old peat bog just east of town. Tim Cover drives by the area every day to and from work.

“I don’t know how the fire got started,” Cover says. “It burnt off, but now it’s under the ground burning. It’s just an old low-lying area. And I guess it’s like the peat that’s burning there; it’s an old marshy bog. I’ve never seen anything like it but I think it’s kind of neat, myself.”

Smoke Rises From Fissures In The Ground

Officials from the area fire department and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources suspect the hot weather coupled with this year’s drought is responsible for the fire. Kirkpatrick falls within the jurisdiction of Fire Chief Clint Canterbury.

“You know it’s been burning since May 27th,” Canterbury says. “We’re assuming it was a spontaneous combustion because we couldn’t find any evidence of anything; kind of started out in the middle of the field, too, so it wasn’t like a cigarette butt on the side of the road, or something like that.”

Usually there are no flames except when the grass on the surface catches fire and burns off. The smoke, which is continuous, comes from fissures in the ground.

Canterbury reaches down and pulls up a chunk of smoldering soil.

Fire Chief Clint Canterbury

“This is what I’m showing you; see all the root base into the dirt? The roots of the peat moss or the Muskego muck, that’s what’s actually burning. This particular piece that I pulled up, it’s pretty hot. I’ve got leather gloves on here and you can see that I can hardly pick it up,” Canterbury says.

The fire, which spans about 15 acres, has heated the ground to between 200 and 400 degrees in some places. The only way to extinguish the fire is by flooding the area with water which during the drought is impractical.

“We tried to do some calculations on what it would take to bring some water in here because it has to be flooded. You would have to flood this and we got into the millions of gallons of water. Then the question was, where do you get that amount of water?” asks Canterbury.

That’s why residents are looking to the heavens, hoping for a good downpour. Larry Oxendine, a Kirkpatrick resident, is pastor of a Baptist church in nearby Bucyrus.

church sign pray for rain

“I would love for it to rain. And so we’re just praying the Lord to give us rain and I think that would alleviate the fire back here,” Oxendine says.

Wayne Meadows, another area resident, thinks it will take several snowfalls to quench the fire.

“The only thing that’s going to put it out is this winter. As long as it stays dry nothing good’s going to come of it,” Meadows says.

Fire Chief Clint Canterbury warns that that might not even be enough. He says the fire might smolder for years.

  • J Seeds

    Thanks for this piece. I live in SW Marion County and was unaware of this.