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It’s like a tinder box out there

By Staff | Oct 7, 2011

-Farm News photo by Karen Schwaller The farm of Doris Gilette, of rural Spencer, and operated by Steve and Cory Peterson, lost outbuildings as a result of one of several field fires in?Clay County on Thursday.

An outbreak of field fires, caused by harvest activity throughout Farm News’ coverage area, had rural and city fire fighting units busy on Sept. 29 working hard to contain a myriad of blazes to prevent residential and ag business structures from damage.

Departments responded to their own multiple fires, as well as assisted other departments on mutual aid calls.

Webster County Sheriff Brian Mickelson said, after consulting with fire departments within the county, that he authorized asking farmers to stay out of the fields with their machinery, at least until the wind dissipates.

“I’m not going to force anyone,” Mickelson said, “but I just want to ask them to hold off (harvesting) if they could.”

Jim Stubbs, Webster County’s chief deputy, said he hopes farmers will keep in mind that because fields are extremely dry “that fires can and will be a real problem, especially with this wind.”

A Vincent fire fighting unit sprays water on a field fire near Vincent Avenue and 170th Street Thursday afternoon in?Webster County. The blaze was one of 8 reported through Webster County. High winds made conditions difficult for firefighters to combat what might otherwise have amounted to little effort on a calmer day.

He said a few of the fires caused “zero visibility” for motorists as smoke crossed roads and highways. He said drivers need to use caution since emergency vehicles may be parked close to the roads.

By 5:10 p.m., all but one of the blazes had been brought under control, Stubbs said. By 6 p.m. the wind had died down and the state rescinded its wind advisory at 7 p.m. By then, the final fire, near Vincent, was out. There were no known structures damaged in any of the Webster County fires, Stubbs said.

“The volunteers are doing a good job,” Stubbs told Farm News, while driving from each fire location. The challenge for those units, he said, was getting enough water to the multiple fires. “You just can’t hook up to hydrants out here. They have only what the trucks can carry.”

Stubbs said several homes were spared along County Road C56, a mile east of U.S. Highway 169. Fire fighters got that fire under control just before it reached the homes. The Sparboe egg buildings west of the highway was also untouched.

Homeowners Charles and Ardis Peters said they had much to be thankful for when the fire stopped just short of their propane tank and home on C56.

“You just can’t hook up to hydrants out here. They have only what the trucks can carry.” —Jim Stubbs Webster County chief deputy

The couple lives next to an unharvested corn field that burned. Ardis Peters, who had soot embedded in hands, hair and teeth, said she saw the fire consuming the corn field. As it neared their home, she said the flames were 15 feet tall.

The couple drove their cars from the garage in event they had to evacuate. She said the smoke was so thick, she couldn’t see where she was backing.

“We were pretty fortunate,” said Peters said. I said, ‘thank you dear Lord,’ immediately.”

Their neighbor, Dave Gruver, was also fighting the fire in the same field that borders his property. Moving his dogs inside to protect them from smoke, he said he sprayed water and doused embers to keep the blaze from endangering his home.

Glen Westling, Badger fire chief, said that fire consumed 20 to 30 acres of the standing corn. “It went like a wild fire,” he said. Westling gave credit to several area farmers who brought tillage equipment to the field and plowed ground to form a firebreak.

A Humboldt firefighter helps put out a field fire, and causes a rainbow effect in the process, near from Sparboe Farms north of Fort Dodge. The fire, which was called in around 11 a.m. Tuesday, destroyed crops but caused no other damage, according to farm worker Craig Thompson, who attempted to put the fire out himself before it spread and he called for firefighters. Thompson thanked the firefighters from Badger, Clare and Humboldt, who all responded to the emergency. The fire was contained shortly after noon.

William Busse, Barnam fire chief, said he received mutual aid assistance from volunteer fire fighting units from Badger, Clare and Moorland, to contain a blaze at 200th Street and Johnson Avenue. He said that fire started in a harvested soybean field and spread into standing corn nearby, but was “quickly brought under control” before much damage occurred to the corn.

“It could have been bad,” Busse said. With the additional departments, “we had quite a workforce.

“If (the fire) got into the corn, it would have been bad for Westwood.” Westwood is a residential area on the west edge of Fort Dodge.

Webster County dispatched 10 field fire calls through the afternoon. These included:

  • A mile west of Prairie Valley School between Callender and Farnhamville.
  • Field corn burning three miles north of County Road C49 between Humboldt and Clare.
  • A field fire at 200th Street and Johnson Avenue near Barnum.
  • A field fire at 390th Street and Paragon Avenue, near Dayton.
  • A soybean field fire at 110th Street east of C29 near Clare.
  • A field fire at 310th Street and Garfield Avenue near Callender.
  • A field fire at Parker Drive and Johnson Avenue near Moorland.
  • A field fire a mile west of U.S. Highway 169, near Clare.
  • A field fire at 102nd Street and U.S. Highway 169, northwest of Badger.

Other counties reported multiple fire calls. These included:

  • Wright County: “We had some fires in the early afternoon,” said Jim Lester, chief deputy and emergency management coordinator in Wright County. “We had no injuries, no residential damage, just combines and crops.”

Fire departments from Eagle Grove, Goldfield, Clarion, Rowan and Belmond were called out, Lester said. Some of the calls were for mutual aid.

  • Sac County: The Early Fire Department was called, at 2:46 p.m., to 240th Street and U.S. Highway 71 for a soybean field on fire. Upon arrival firemen encountered “a large amount of the bean field burning and an adjacent corn field on fire,.” said Doug Reise, Early fire chief. The fire consumed several acres of corn and beans. No estimate of dollar loss was available at presstime. There were no injuries. Reis said his department was assisted at the scene by two local farmers with tractors and discs and by the Sac County Sheriff’s Department.

Reis said high winds and dry conditions “made fighting the fire very difficult.” “We lucked out there,” he said. “But we sure could use a good rain.”

Wall Lake firefighters fought a fire that moved from a soybean field into the ditch. Sac City Fire Chief Dale Duncan said his department was also called to a bean field fire that spread into pasture land, and that pasture land led to a gravel pit.

“The fires keep rekindling behind us,” Duncan said. “One farmer was halfway through his field when the fire started. He fixed the combine and went right back to work.”

  • Calhoun County: Lorri McClintock of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department said firefighters and emergency personnel were out all day Thursday fighting five fires before 4 p.m.

“That’s what they’re fighting,” she said. “Non-structure ditch and field fires. We’ve had no physical injuries.”

  • Pocahontas County: Sheriff Bob Lampe, in Pocahontas County, said the department was called to several fires on Thursday, including a tractor on fire and a field on fire northwest of Pocahontas County.

“They’re still out working,” he said about 4:30 p.m. “We had a combine on fire south of Gilmore City last night.”

Lampe said, “We’re asking everybody to get out of the field. This chaff and stuff is getting up on the engines and starting a fire. There’s just not enough fire departments or water to be hauled.”

  • Buena Vista County: Six field fires were fought in Buena Vista County said Major Doug Simons of the Buena Vista County Sheriff’s Department.

“We’ve been going from one end to the other,” he said. “They’ve all been field fires. The high wind is really fanning the flames. It can take the smallest spark, and the fields are so dry.”

Simons said all six fires were fought with mutual aid and all were confined to fields. No structures were involved and no injures were reported.

Karen Schwaller, of Farm News; plus Sandy Mickelson, Hans Madsen, Bill Shea and Peter Kaspari, all of The Messenger, in Fort Dodge, contributed to this story.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453, or kersh@farm-news.com.

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