Field fires forecasted

Hot, dry weather with little rain is forcing officials with area fire departments to be on the lookout for field fires.

Members of the St. Johns Fire Department responded along with the Botkins Fire Department to a field fire that burned approximately 15 acres of wheat stubble Saturday afternoon on Hardin Pike. The fire started when the wind blew flames and caused the dry wheat stubble to catch fire.

However, St. Johns Fire Chief Rodney Campbell said the area has otherwise been fortunate so far.

“We were very fortunate with that fire,” Campbell said. “The fire came within a foot or so of some buildings, a camper and a generator. The fire followed along a roadway and creek, so we were very fortunate.”

One firefighter suffered some minor injuries in the fire.

“Everyone is surprised we haven’t had more,” Campbell said.

Firefighter Dan Jackson of the Wapakoneta Fire Department said there isn’t a lot a fire department can do to prepare for field fires, but he noted  there are things farmers can do, especially now while the situation are the most favorable for them to start.

“A lot of times they can start when a

bearing goes bad on a combine,” Jackson said. “Farmers should keep them greased or replaced. We have heard reports also when sickles on the combine are cutting too low. They scrape the rocks on the ground and can spark.”

Uniopolis Fire Chief Kelly Knutzen said his department responded to the Hardin Pike fire as mutual aid. He said a small fire can quickly turn into a problem.

“It is very dry,” Knutzen said. “Any time you have harvesting going on using machinery in these kind of conditions, there is potential for a problem. All it takes is for a bearing to drop into the stubble.”

Knutzen said rural residents need to consider not having open flames while the conditions persist.

“Burning barrels and burning paper are also a cause,” Knutzen said. “They aren’t really supposed to burn it, but you can’t have unattended burning of trash in the current conditions.”

Knutzen said while residents in rural areas should consider not having open burns right now, it may soon not be a choice.

Auglaize County Emergency Management Agency Director Troy Anderson is currently in contact with state officials discussing a possible ban on open burns while dry conditions continue.

Campbell said with the Fourth of July holiday coming up, homeowners should consider not having private fireworks shows at home.

“They should consider not shooting fireworks and go to a display somewhere,” Campbell said. “There are professionals who have been trained who can limit the chance of fires. If homeowners do shoot them, they should use caution. They should have a fire extinguisher on hand because the situation can get out of hand quickly.”

Campbell said the fact the majority of the wheat being already harvested contributed the dry field conditions, as fire can spread even faster in a field of wheat heads. He said rural residents who don’t heed the advice of no open burning should do so in early morning dew hours or after a rain.

“People also need to be careful mowing their yards,” Campbell said. “The blade can scrape the rocks and ignite. Discarded cigarettes can also be a potential threat and people should dispose of them properly.”