Winds, dry spell cause slew of fires in South Dakota

Strong winds and soybean harvests caused fields to heat up early this week. More than a dozen fires were reported in the Mitchell, S.D. region on Monday and Tuesday, from Tripp to Buffalo to McCook counties. At least 11 of the fires started on Mo...

A combine was consumed in a fire on Oct. 12 near Salem, S.D. (Photo courtesy of Nate Olinger)

Strong winds and soybean harvests caused fields to heat up early this week.

More than a dozen fires were reported in the Mitchell, S.D. region on Monday and Tuesday, from Tripp to Buffalo to McCook counties.

At least 11 of the fires started on Monday, and nearly half of those ignited near Wagner in Charles Mix County. Wagner Fire Chief Eric Anderson said the Wagner Fire Department responded to five fire calls within five-and-a-half hours.

"We've had a few times where we've had two or three running at the same time, but never this many," Anderson said.

The fire department received the first call at 1:05 p.m. on Monday, and the trucks didn't make it back to the station until about 6:30 p.m.


In that time, the firefighters responded to two combine fires, one house fire, one trash fire at the Marty dump site and one soybean stubble field fire.

Anderson said when calls come in at a high frequency, he sends two units immediately to the most recent call and will call for mutual aid from nearby towns.

Anderson said another soybean field fire ignited about nine miles south and one mile east of Wagner on Tuesday afternoon. He said the blaze was sparked by a combine.

Anderson said winds have slowed down since Monday, which helped the situation return to normal levels, but some fires continued to appear on Tuesday.

At about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Corsica Fire Department responded to to a field fire just west of New Holland. The fire burned only burned about 10 feet of land and some nearby hay bales.

At around 4:30 p.m., the Alexandria Fire Department responded to a combine fire near the intersection of 264th Street and 423rd Avenue, about six miles south of Alexandria. No other information was immediately available.

It's been a similar story across the region. The Associated Press reported that wildfires burning on prairie land in five states have destroyed more than a dozen homes and killed livestock in the past few days as a region normally accustomed to crisp temperatures and even snow this time of year gets a taste of California-style drought. According to the AP, grass fires elsewhere in the Dakotas destroyed at least one home and shut down highways including part of Interstate 29.

Most of the recent fires in the Mitchell area were relatively minor, with no injuries reported Sunday through Tuesday, but still affected a wide swath of the region.


In McCook County, a fire started Monday near the intersection of 247th Street and 437th Avenue, about five miles north and four miles west of Salem.

At about 5:15 p.m., Salem Fire Chief Nate Olinger said eight firefighters responded to a combine fire in a soybean field after seeing "a tremendous amount of smoke" that was visible from town.

Olinger said the combine, owned by Richard Wobig, was a complete loss, but the head was saved, and the field did not catch fire.

Wobig's was the third combine fire in the past seven days for the Salem Fire Department, Olinger said. He said at least two of the three were caused by winds blowing debris into the engines.

The other two fires took place one mile southwest of Salem and three miles northwest of town, respectively.

There was also a fire on Monday near Gann Valley in Buffalo County.

Gann Valley Fire Chief Ken Wulff said his department responded to a combine fire in a soybean field six miles south and two miles east of Gann Valley, near the intersection of 237th Street and 361st Avenue.

Eight firefighters responded to the blaze at about 6:15 p.m. and extinguished the fire in about two hours. Wulff said the fire was caused by the wiring and hydraulics inside the combine, owned by Wayne Olsen. Wulff said the combine is salvageable, but cannot be used until repairs are made.


It wasn't the first harvest-related fire for the Gann Valley Fire Department this month. At about 5 p.m. on Friday, firefighters responded to another combine fire in a soybean field 10 miles north and one mile west of town, which destroyed the combine.

Wulff said the fire was caused by some sort of spark, and the wind was not a factor.

"We didn't have anything during those real strong winds," Wulff said.

Hutchinson County was also affected, with Monday fires reported in Freeman and Menno.

Assistant Chief Cody Fransen said 11 Freeman firefighters responded to a fire at about 10 p.m. in a feeder house three miles north of Freeman.

The fire was sparked by a combine, but only a pile of harvested corn caught flame. The feeder house, combine and field were not damaged.

Fransen said the farmer had the fire put out before the fire department arrived, but firefighters hosed everything down to make sure the fire was extinguished.

Not too far away, three miles west and a mile-and-a-half south of Menno, a soybean head for a combine caught fire and spread to 2 acres or less of soybeans and corn, according to Menno Fire Chief Scott Simonsen.

No one was hurt, and the combine was not damaged.

Two more fires were reported on Monday, one in a field just west of Mitchell and another in a field two miles west of Tripp. Both fires were contained to parts of the fields that had already been harvested.

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