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3 Elmwood firefighters hurt battling grass fire; 1 still at Regions

Two of three Elmwood firefighters treated for smoke inhalation Wednesday night were photographed with fellow Elmwood firefighters in late 2008. Jeremy Link, front left, was treated at RFAH and Tom Joyce, right, was transported to Regions Hospital in St. Paul by helicopter. The entire group includes: Members of the Elmwood Fire Department: Front row (left to right) are: Mike Burke, Neil Boltic, Collin Gilles, Jason Books, Link, Jamie Bock, Joyce, Josh Ginsbach. Back row: Mark Wolf, Joe Teske, Chris Bowen,...

WAVERLY -- One Elmwood firefighter was airlifted to Regions Hospital Wednesday evening and two others were transported to River Falls Area Hospital after several men were overcome by smoke while fighting a rural grass fire in eastern Pierce County.

Firefighter Tom Joyce, 38, remained hospitalized at Regions Thursday morning. His condition wasn't available.

Fellow firefighters Jeremy Link and Travis Bemis were treated for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion at River Falls and later released, according to Neil Gulbranson, chief deputy with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

Elmwood fire chief Mike Shields said two others were also affected by smoke but didn't require medical transport.

Pierce authorities first received word from the pilot of a passing aircraft of a possible grass fire in the vicinity of 450th Avenue near CTH CC. The area is about a mile west of Nugget Lake County Park.

A deputy was sent to investigate and Elmwood firefighters were dispatched a short time later when a large grass fire was confirmed. Firefighters and all available ambulances from Ellsworth and Spring Valley were later called out to provide mutual aid.

About 20 minutes after arriving, an Elmwood fire officer notified Pierce dispatch that a firefighter was suffering respiratory distress and a paramedic from the Ellsworth Area Ambulance Service was requested to intercept the ambulance to assist the patient.

Joyce was transported to Ellsworth for relay to a medical helicopter, which landed at the highway shop about 7:55 p.m.

Gulbranson said the cause of the fire was unknown.

Shields confirmed those details with a Herald reporter Thursday morning. He said the fire was contained to about 20 acres. He said 20 firefighters from Elmwood responded along with 17 from Spring Valley and 5 from Ellsworth.

Besides three taken to hospital, two others were affected but not transported.

Shields urged area residents to "be cautious and careful with any fires during this time of year" because of volatile conditions that exist.

Earlier Wednesday, the National Weather Service at Chaska issued a "red flag warning" for portions of southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. That message was conveyed to all Pierce County fire and police departments.

The warning indicated low humidity, warm temperatures and dry southerly winds combine to create dangerous wildfire conditions. Yesterday's warning was to expire at 6 p.m.