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A hunt to remember

Seven prevent what could have been

Christina M. Currie

A fire that could have burned thousands of acres near the White River National Forest was prevented by seven out-of-state hunters who happened to be in the right place at the right time and with the know-how to get it done.

Five days into their hunt at Bull Run Ranch 10 miles southeast of Hamilton, the men were watching the weather. They already had bagged three animals but they had eight tags to fill and only two days to do it.

“We had all seen game and everyone could’ve had shots, but we passed up some shots to look for bulls,” said Garry Biniecki, a 28-year veteran police officer from Sandusky, Mich.

The weather wasn’t cooperating. At 4 p.m. the sky was getting dark, thunder sounded and lightning struck. It was Sept. 4.

The bow hunters sat on the porch watching to see what the weather would do.

It was time to hit the forest again. All but one of the men had tags to fill.

“We had a great time, but I couldn’t believe how dry it was,” Biniecki said. “It’s such a beautiful country out there. You people are lucky to have so much public land.”

He’s been hunting in Northwest Colorado for seven years, spending the last two at Bull Run Ranch.

“Everything was so dry, there was just one outcropping where water was dripping,” Biniecki said. “Three guys filled their tags there, the rest of the place was so dry.””

Lightning struck the ground on a ridge that looms over the cabin.

Someone shouted, “Fire!”

“All at once we saw smoke and it never dawned on us what it was until someone yelled ‘fire,'” Biniecki said.

With one police officer and two volunteer firefighters in the group, everything moved fast.

Mike Romzek, from Ruth, Mich., Mike Hessling from Harbor Beach, Mich., Jason Hessling, from Filion, Mich., Mark Schweitzer and Kevin Schweitzer, of Palms, Mich., jumped on ATVs carrying shovels, axes and rakes and started toward the fire. They drove until the grade became too steep for the ATVs then jumped off and ran the rest of the way.

Biniecki estimates the fire was about three-quarters of a mile from the hunting cabin and about 1,000 feet higher than the cabin.

They all had radios and called down for water.

In the meantime, Biniecki called Tom Mikesell, the manager of the property where the fire was burning and part owner of Bull Run Ranch, Rick Rayl. He asked Rayl to contact the fire department and Mikesell to come to the fire.

Then, he and Ken Hessling, of Harbor Beach, filled every available container, including a 30-gallon cooler and milk jugs.

“I was pouring milk out of the jugs to fill them with water,” Biniecki said. “I don’t know why I was pouring milk out. I could’ve used it.”

Each carrying two milk jugs and one end of the cooler, they started toward the fire. Biniecki said he could see the flames from the draw, and estimated they were at least six feet high. They had to stop three times on the way up because the grade was so steep.

“By the time we got up there, they pretty much had things secured,” Biniecki said. “We were able to get her out.”

Those who raced off to meet the fire head on were knocking down brush, leaves and limbs and turning up the ground ahead of the fire. Mikesell appeared on scene with a chainsaw because the fire had burned into the trunks of some young trees and that was the only way to stop it.

Biniecki estimates the fire burned a 30-foot by 30-foot area.

“It could’ve been bigger,” he said. “You could see it was building, that if this thing got going there was going to be trouble.”

Prime hunting ground was in the path of the fire.

Biniecki estimated it took 20 minutes from the time someone shouted fire until it was put out.

“They just grabbed things and were gone so fast it kind of shocked me,” he said. “I was proud of those guys. They saw what needed to be done and did it.”

After the fire was put out, Mikesell showed them the 14,000 acres that he manages that could have been destroyed if the fire had gotten out of control. He opened the gate to the seven hunters and said, “Guys, it’s yours while you’re here. If it weren’t for you, it wouldn’t be there.”

“It was incredible,” Biniecki said. “It was really a shocker to see what could’ve been lost.”


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