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Dubuque County Woman Warns About Brush Fires After Father's Death

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DUBUQUE COUNTY, Iowa — A Dubuque County woman is warning of the dangers of brush fires after her father’s death.

The State Fire Marshal Division and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are concerned about what they say are an alarming number of brush fire-related deaths and injuries.

The U.I. Burn Treatment Center says three people died from brush fires between February and April this year. Three others were hurt.

During the same time last year, there was one death and one injury from burns in brush fires. Not all of these victims were Iowans, but all three people who died were at least 75 years old. Including Eugene Phelps, 76 of Coon Rapids.

Phelps’s daughter Elaine Capek said, “My dad wanted to burn off the garden so he’d be ready to plant new stuff for the year. “

That was an annual been a springtime ritual for Phelps. But this year, on April 11th, that ritual turned deadly.

Capek said, “It just kept moving and then it got close to a wood shed that they kept their wood in for the house. Once it hit that, it was real dry and it just went up and he was kind of in the midst of it. “

His wife, Shirley attempted to pull him from the flames. She too suffered severe burns.

Capek said, “My mom said ‘I couldn’t just let him burn. I couldn’t just leave him there either.’ “

The Coon Rapids couple spent the following week at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic’s burn unit. Doctors cared for them in rooms across the hall from each other, until Eugene lost his fight. A scenario doctors here say has been happening too often this spring.

UIHC Burn Unit Medical Director Dr. Thomas Granchi said, “People are careless. Certainly we like to do everything we can for burn prevention and we’re working with various fire marshals to try to reduce that. “

Her loss is why Capek is now urging everyone to use extra caution while burning brush.

“Would he have done something differently if he knew how this would turn out? Absolutely. But hindsight is always 20-20, “ said Capek.

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