Dust, Dry Wheat, Tiny Spark Spell Tragedy

Kansas Viewpoint

For Sumner County couple, blessing is wheat harvest was complete when tragic fire struck

Published on: May 31, 2012
Dale and Dawn Hartman were elated to finish wheat harvest early Monday afternoon -- plenty of time, they thought, to get the boat ready and head to the lake for the end of the Memorial Day holiday.

But it didn't quite work out that way.

"We had repaired a fuel leak earlier today," she said, standing in the still smoking ashes of what had been straw and stubble just hours earlier. We had just finished cutting and we were cleaning up. Dale was blowing dirt off the combine and something sparked. In two minutes, it was gone."

A combination of dust, possibly fuel and bone dry wheat straw and stubble burned quick and hot, she said, destroying the combine and setting the field ablaze.

"This is all the wheat we have this year," Dawn Hartman said. "So we feel really lucky that we were done harvesting when it happened. Our neighbor, Jay Becker, had a disc hooked up and headed right over to help us get ahead of it and get it out."

She said the loss of the combine is still a blow, but the couple does have insurance on the machine so they expect to be able to replace it.

Volunteer firefighters and law enforcement officers were on the scene, helping keep the hot spots in the field from flaring up and spreading fire to neighboring fields of still-growing wheat.

"From now on, we're going to keep a disc hooked up and ready to go," Hartman said. "We're letting our neighbors know that even if we aren't home, they are welcome to just take it and go if they need it."

In a nearby field, Sumner County farmer Jim Stuhlstaz said one of his custom cutting crews set a field on fire two days ago, but like the Hartman blaze, it mostly burned stubble and little standing wheat was lost.

He was watching the smoke from the Hartman fire drift slowly across the landscape.

"I'm thinking it's a really lucky thing this one was today and not yesterday," he said. "With those south winds we had on Sunday, that would have burned to Garden Plain before they would have gotten it stopped."

Winds on Sunday gusted to 30 mph. On Monday, winds were light, between 5 and 1o mph.