This perfect storm is anything but

TRACY FIREFIGHTERS spray water on the charred remains of a four-wheeler in a field east of Tracy this past Friday. Photo / Tara Brandl

By Tara Brandl

An otherwise routine task turned into a lot more Friday morning for one Central Crop Consulting employee thanks to the extreme dry conditions in the area.

A field fire was reported east of Tracy on Lyon County Road 8 just after 9 a.m. Friday, as dry and windy conditions fueled the fire that contributed to just the frame of an ATV being left after the Tracy Fire Department arrived on scene to take control of the situation.

“One of my employees was collecting soil samples in the field, and these are no-till fields so corn stalks are still there and kind of poking up,” Bryan Smith, manager with Central Crop Consulting said, “which is not uncommon year to year, but due to the fact that it’s been extremely dry, sometimes what happens is the corn stalks get caught under the four wheeler and get stuck in there by the muffler and get hot and start on fire. That’s what I would assume happened (Friday) morning, especially since the ATV burned up like it did.”

The lack of rain and high temperatures the area has experienced this summer continues to contribute to an increase in fire danger.

Every year I seem to come across something that I say, ‘Well, I’ve been doing this for 25-30 years and I’ve never seen that before,’” Smith said. “Well, these hot temperatures and this dryness this early in the season is something I’ve never seen before. And to think, we have to worry about field fires when it’s mid-June, and that has never been a concern; it’s usually too wet. The field fire is still a concern no matter what you’re doing because it’s so hot and dry. It shouldn’t be a concern this year, but it just kind of shows that everybody just needs to be a careful. Even parking a vehicle in a field, especially if it’s no-till, if we don’t get a rain soon, it will be a consistent concern.”

In addition to the lack of rain, the windy conditions the region is known for are also increasing the concern with field fires.

“It is that dry out there,” Tracy Fire Chief Dale Johnson III said. “Our humidity has been super low and our heat has been super high. A lot of these no-till situations, there are corn stalks all of 2 feet tall, and the left over trash from the corn is laying in the rows. If there is any amount of wind, it doesn’t take anything to burn a large area. Depending on where that four wheeler is at, there are a lot of farm yards that are right up to the field, and it takes nothing if it’s windy and the wind can push it into the field.”

Crop consultants are in farmers’ fields scouting for disease, weeds, insects and any other problems the farmer may be facing so decisions can be made as to what the farmer needs to do. With Minnesota weather, crop consultants and farmers have a short window of three to four months to make decisions, take soil samples, etc. The dry, hot weather has not helped those tasks this summer.

“To be honest, I’ve been doing this for 27 years and I’ve never had this concern in the spring and summer,” Smith said. “We’re trying to take precautions. You try to check under your four wheeler every so often. On a daily basis in the summer our company has about 130 employees on ATVs across Minnesota and South Dakota working on about 2 million acres every day, and so far the three fires we’ve had this spring have all been in the Tracy area.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.