What's Wrong With This Picture?

Each year, fire departments all across the nation spend millions of dollars and man hours working to prevent the loss of life to fires in buildings. Professional fire inspectors carefully walk through businesses and public venues to ensure exits are...


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What are the typical humidity levels, and local wind speeds in your area during these months? As you have learned, humidity is critical because corn leaves will readily ignite when relative humidity levels are 40% and below. If your research shows relative humidity values below 40%, you are at risk for a corn maze fire. Just how serious of a fire will depend on wind speed when the fire starts.

Egress stress

While a six-mph flame spread doesn’t sound menacing at first glance, consider the difficulty of running from a fire through a corrugated field with unmarked exits and smoke obscuring your path. Because most of the paths are dead ends, participants in the corn maze will begin to panic and realize the difficulty of finding their way out. Can we expect the public to escape at the speed of a 10-minute mile?

The complexity of a corn maze can have a dramatic effect on getting out because these mazes are created with the intent to get people disoriented and lost. The size and scope of a corn maze is limited only by the imagination of the designer. While most corn mazes are five to 10 acres in size, some goliaths are being built each year. Adventure Acres corn maze in Bellbrook, OH, outside Dayton, consists of 62 acres of corn maze with 8½ miles of trails. That maze has a length of 1,550 feet and a width of 1,000 feet at the widest end.

Designers pride themselves on reproducing a design into the cornfield, which ultimately creates the maze. Most designs start with a picture or shape, and that design is programmed into a global positioning system. Corn mazes are cut using a GPS device with remarkable accuracy using traditional farming machinery, but some owners use riding lawn mowers to make isle widths smaller and more confining for maze participants.

Fire department response

Egress is not the only problem. The local fire department may have difficulty locating the field because of no physical address, lack of pre-planning and the smoke column laying flat and making the source of the fire difficult to find. It is possible that a large-scale cornfield maze is taking place in your jurisdiction each year, with thousands of guests per day, without your knowledge. Because they are new and part of the agritourism commerce explosion, municipalities and fire districts do not treat them as a regular business, and therefore do not inspect the operation prior to opening day. This opens the door for code violations and does not afford the fire department the opportunity to pre-plan the site.

Responding to a fire in a cornfield may be a common occurrence in some parts of the country; however, responding to a fire at a corn maze is much different. The physical location of the maze may not be readily available to your dispatcher because of the lack of an address or its rural location.

But getting there is only half the battle. Are you prepared to drive your emergency vehicle into a field that appears firm enough to hold the weight of your apparatus? Consider responding with a four-wheel-drive brush engine in addition to a structural engine. The agility of a smaller brush engine may make getting to the fire possible, regardless of the soil conditions.

What about fire attack? Considering the size of a cornfield maze, and the fuel load, would a one-inch grassfire line be adequate or would it be a better choice to stretch 1¾-inch attack lines for knockdown power and stack extra lengths on for long stretches? With fire attack comes the logistics of a water supply. In most areas, calling for water tenders early in the incident could save the day. From the incident command standpoint, how would you address the issue of search and rescue in the corn maze? Would it be appropriate to don self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and enter the maze to perform search and rescue operations? If the decision to send firefighters into the maze was made, careful consideration about accountability must be made to keep track of our own. And if so, what about a rapid intervention team?

Another concern is evacuation – how to coordinate it, how to know when evacuation is complete and where evacuees would seek shelter. Because this event could be a mass-casualty disaster, EMS must be integrated into the initial response plan. If any of these questions are leaving you scratching your head, consider getting a few crews together to discuss this information and brainstorm solutions to these problems.