Harvester malfunction sparks corn stubble fire

Photo courtesy Doug Fischer


JASPER — Two fire departments jumped into action Friday afternoon when a malfunction onboard a harvester sparked a large corn stubble field fire west of Jasper.

The 1:03 p.m. call sent firefighters to a farm field owned by Mike and Pat Hochgesang at 3649 W. 150N, west of Shiloh United Methodist Church, according to Jasper Volunteer Fire Department Chief Kenny Hochgesang. The property owners were no relation to the fire chief, even though he happens to have a brother named Mike married to a woman named Patty.

Chief Hochgesang said the farmer who rents the field was harvesting when his combine experienced a mechanical failure.

A chain inside the harvester began rubbing against a bolt, which eventually broke off and dropped into the field, according to Hochgesang.

“When they took the cover off the machine,” Hochgesang said, “we actually saw the area where there was supposed to be a bolt in there. It looked like somebody had welded the area in there. It looked just like a weld area.”

The hot bolt dropped down and ignited a section of the field that had already been harvested.

Hochgesang said the corn stubble fire started out small. If winds had been coming from the west, Hochgesang said, the blaze could have been snuffed out when it encountered a driveway. Instead, he added, there were winds coming from the east that happened to kick up at the time.

“Once that wind picked up,” Jasper’s chief said, “it took off fast. It was more than we could handle with the equipment we had on scene.”

Jasper’s department, which had three trucks at the location, called for assistance from the Ireland Volunteer Fire Department.

Ireland supplied a water tanker and a brush truck that was pulling a trailer loaded with an all-terrain vehicle equipped for fighting brush fires.

“Between the two departments and all the equipment there,” Hochgesang said, “we were able to contain it fairly quickly.”

The farmer’s actions also aided their efforts, Hochgesang said. M & M Schwenk Farms brought a disc implement to the scene and circled the fire to stem its advance.

“Once he went around it a couple of times,” Hochgesang said, “that took away any threat of the fire advancing any further.”

An area estimated to be between 3 and 5 acres was singed.

Jasper’s department had an estimated 35 to 40 firefighters at the location. Ireland’s department assisted with the two trucks and eight firefighters. And, Hochgesang said, a couple of passersby also stopped to help.

Firetrucks were on the scene for about an hour.

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