Wind gusts to 30 mph, a mere 29% humidity, tinder dry standing corn and a careless individual tossing a cigarette butt out of a car window led to yet another field fire in rural drought stricken Indiana.
East of Shelbyville, a small town southeast of Indianapolis, a fire started in a road side ditch. Within minutes it spread to the adjacent field with both standing corn and stubble. The wind spread the fire to the south, and soon it had traveled over half a mile.
Neighboring farmers responded immediately with tractors pulling discs and started to disc the fields ahead of and around the fire to build fire breaks. The farm owner, who I know personally, was in a neighboring town to the south when he got the call from a neighbor telling him his field was on fire. He told me he saw the smoke from 20 miles away as he raced home.
Rural volunteer fire departments from the surrounding townships responded with manpower, tankers, and fire trucks designed for mobile use in combating field fires. By the time the fire was contained, over twenty farm tractors and discs, ten fire trucks and close to a hundred men fought this blaze. Fortunately, no buildings were damaged, and one of his combines, caught in the path of the fire, received only minor damage. The cost of the crops destroyed is yet to be determined.
The farmer who owns this field described to me the angst that he has gone through daily during this harvest season. With many hundreds of tinder dry acres left to harvest, he worries each morning about the potential for disaster in the dry, wind buffeted fields. Every combine is now accompanied by a tractor and disc and a water tank on a wagon.
As he described the efforts of the volunteer firefighters and his neighbors to stop the spread of the fire, emotions took over and tears began to well in the corners of his eyes. "There are good, hard working people left in this world. As I walked towards one of my neighbors in his tractor to thank him, he just waved and motioned me away. No thanks needed. That's an example of a good man." No truer words have I ever heard.
Central and southern Indiana continues to suffer under moderate to severe drought conditions. In addition, there are now 61 out of 92 counties under some form of open-burning bans/restrictions, up from 45 a few days ago. There has been a plague of field fires, as the crops are dry and ready for harvest. While some fires have been started by farm machinery, the lion's share have been attributed to the careless throwing of cigarettes out of cars. Central and southern Indiana has a 50% chance of light rain forecast for Saturday.