Combine, grass aflame

GOWRIE – Gowrie and Harcourt firefighters kept busy Sunday afternoon responding first to a combine on fire north of Harcourt, then a grass fire south of Gowrie.

No one was hurt at either fire.

Jim Engstrom was driving a Gleaner combine in his bean field west of Kansas Avenue and north of 330th Street when it caught fire.

Shortly after extinguishing that, the fire departments were called to a plot of Conservation Reserve Program ground burning about 1 mile south of Iowa Highway 175 and east of Garfield Avenue.

The grass fire stretched about a half mile long and a quarter mile wide, estimated Gowrie Fire Chief Greg Benson.

“The one property owner started it; he wanted his to burn. But then it went across the fence line into another guy’s field, and he was trying to save it for pheasant hunting, so he wasn’t too happy that it was burning,” Benson said.

“That’s why we went and put it out. Plus in that kind of a wind there’s always the worry that it can get into another field that isn’t plowed.”

There was a bean field next to the burning grass, and standing corn not too far away across a short gap, he said.

Benson wasn’t sure who owned the two properties.

The fire was called in about 4:40 p.m., and the firefighters spent about an hour putting it out, he said. He wasn’t sure how long the land was burning before the fire department was called.

The combine fire was in the Harcourt Fire Department’s district, Benson said. Gowrie firefighters were called out for mutual aid. While still on the scene there, both departments got the call for the grass fire in Gowrie’s district, and responded together.

At the combine fire, “The guy driving said he had just unloaded it, so luckily the hopper was empty,” Benson said. “He turned around and saw smoke, and it was in the engine compartment. So something in the engine compartment caught fire, we don’t know what.”

“Luckily it wasn’t in a corn field, or it would have been gone,” said the driver, Engstrom.

He said he’d just cleaned the combine out, but it caught fire anyway. He’s been in a combine fire once before, but never anything this major.

“That’s one of the hazards of fall,” he said.

“I’d be surprised if we don’t get another call before it rains,” said Gowrie firefighter Shawn Blunk. “The farmers will all be going 100 miles per hour, and bearings get hot, stuff gets hot. It’s that time of year.

“The only good thing about these grass fires is usually nobody gets hurt,” he added.

Common sense can help reduce the fire risk, Benson said.

“Most of them know that when there’s still crops in the field, we recommend you don’t burn your CRP, or your end rows or your fence line,” he said. “And also in wind like we had today, it’s not a good idea.

“As far as combines, the most important thing is good housekeeping. Make sure they clean the dirt and the chaff and the stalks away from the motor, and keep the motor clean, and they don’t have any oil or fuel leaks,” Benson said.

“It’s common sense; most of them know that,” he said. “But the farmers are working hard, they’re tired, and that’s when accidents happen.”