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Smoke in the Field – Drivers in Rural Areas Need to be Aware

- October 31, 2016 by Dan Heinen, ASP (View all posts by Dan)

As I watch the news, I see and hear about the dry conditions and wildfires out west and think, “Man, I’m glad I don’t have to worry about that.” Then I heard the sirens, saw the fire trucks and smelled the smoke from the other side of the road.

It’s harvest time across the country, farmers hope for dry conditions, so they may have an uninterrupted harvest. They pick corn, cut beans, disc-chisel, and plow throughout the season. But with these dry conditions comes a hazard—the potential for a field fire. Which according to a study by the University of Minnesota causes over $20 million of dollars in property losses, millions more in down time and crop damage as well 40-50 serious injuries each year.

A farmer during harvest notices smoke. As they realize it is the field burning and not equipment they call in the fire and they move equipment to safety.  Due to vehicles try to maneuver through the smoke and a lack of traffic control (police presence), driving becomes a mess as the volunteer fire department arrives to assess and control the situation. Neighbors are driving up to see what is going on.  Farm equipment is brought in to create a fire break.

As I watched the response vehicles arrive, and traffic trying to go up and down this 1 ½ lane country road it had me thinking about potential issues.

  • Narrow road
  • Obscured visibility from smoke
  • Fire equipment
  • Farm equipment
  • Curious neighbors
  • Lack of traffic control
  • Lag in 911 response time due to being in a rural area.

So what should you or one of your drivers do if in a situation like this? If you are the first to notice, and can do so safely move your vehicle off the road, get the farmers attention to the situation, and call 911.  If you see it ahead of you, and if it is possible, turn around and avoid the area all together. If you cannot avoid it proceed with caution. Slow down, slow WAY down, as response vehicles may be approaching from the other direction. Move over and allow fire and farm equipment to pass as that tractor with implements may be coming to assist.

Don’t be a gawker, we are all curious by nature but it is much better to find out what happened by watching the local newscast then to get to close to the fire.