Dry conditions during harvest pose fire hazard for farmers

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 6:30 PM CDT
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HITCHCOCK, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - 2020 started off for many in northeastern South Dakota similar to last year, with wet conditions preventing many farmers from getting into their fields to plant. That includes Jeffery Gatzke, a farmer and cattle producer near Hitchcock, who says he planted less this year than in 2019.

“We only go 40 percent of our ground planted. And so we had that struggle this Spring.” Gatzke says.

But the weather and the ground began to dry up early in the Summer. Now, the entire state is facing drought conditions in some form. Brown County Emergency Management Director Scott Meints says his office has been watching conditions dry up, worried that farmers would have to contend with increased fire risk at the height of harvest.

“Our fire activity and potential has increased here over the last couple of months. No rain to speak of in the last couple of months, and that vegetation has dried up.” Meints says.

Peak wind gusts are putting much of eastern South Dakota under red flag warnings, according to the National Weather Service. Gatzke says many farmers welcomed the drier conditions headed into harvest, but now those high winds have been a major risk.

“It’s been a beautiful harvest and harvest weather, except for this wind. This wind is just absolutely crazy, makes it uncomfortable and and also it’s such a fire hazard out there if you do have a bearing or something go out.”

The winds have even been affecting when many feel safe getting out in the field.

They’ve even shut down during the day. During the high wind days, just because of that friction factor. They’re worried about starting a fire out there." Gatzke says.

Gatzke says that he, along with many others, have been cautious when harvesting this year, making sure every piece of machinery is in working condition. But that doesn’t ease the concerns of creating uncontrollable fires.

“I know a few neighbors in this area have lost their combines. Just bad luck or a bearing going out, or just friction. And it don’t take long for that fire to take off in this wind.”

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