Firefighters battle ‘nerve-racking’ blaze; Field fire comes within 100 yards of Sargeant city limits, produces ‘unbearable’ smoke

Published 10:29 am Friday, October 16, 2015

A field fire took firefighters two hours and 15 minutes to put out Thursday and got within 100 yards of the Sargeant city lines.

“It was real close,” Hayfield Fire Department Chief Paul O’Brien said. “It was nerve-racking.”

The fire started the leftover stalks of a harvested corn field north of Sargeant on fire, and the Hayfield Fire Department got there at 3:57 p.m. They called for backup and were assisted by the Brownsdale Fire Department. The fire burned about 30 to 40 acres of corn stalks, producing heavy smoke

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“The smoke was just unbearable, you couldn’t see where you were at,” he said.

“It was like a real bad blizzard,” he added.

The start of the fire is unknown, but O’Brien was just happy to get the fire out before it did any more damage or reached the city. He said a couple of road graders as well as a bulldozer also helped to turn the dirt and slow the fire.

“They helped out a lot,” he said.

Field fires and combine fires are relatively common each fall during harvest, but conditions are dry this year. Mower County was under a red flag warning — meaning the risk of fire was high — on Thursday thanks to the dry conditions and wind speeds reaching sustained speeds above 17-26 mph and gusting in the low 30s.

Austin Fire Chief Jim McCoy said that while rain could slow farmers’ progress in the harvest, it would help lessen the risk of fire.

“It would really help us to stop some of these,” he said.

However, the dry, breezy conditions appear primed to continue at least through early next week. A high of 48 is expected Friday, with northwest winds at 10 to 15 mph. After calm winds Saturday and winds of 5 to 15 mph, the region could be primed for another red flag warning on Monday when winds are expected to reach 15 to 22 mph with 34 mph gusts.

The next chance of rain is on Tuesday and Wednesday, when the National Weather Service calls for a 30 percent chance of showers.

—Jason Schoonover contributed to this report.