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A fire is a terrible time for ‘iffy’ cell service

Poor cell phone service is what rural people face these days. As a result, a farmer didn’t know if help was on the way when his combine burst into flames.

Ryan Carter was combining his wheat field on the east side of the municipality of Wallace-Woodworth when something went wrong. His self-propelled combine caught fire and he found out just how critical fire extinguishers and cell phone coverage are.

On Friday afternoon, Sept. 3, Ryan and his father Denis Carter were combining a nice dry field of wheat, testing about 14, when Ryan smelled smoke and reached for the fire extinguisher that farm operators carry in their equipment.

The extinguisher failed. But, he had a second extinguisher. That one also failed.

Carter believes the smoke was generated from chaff collecting on the exhaust manifold of the motor. “That’s the only thing I could figure.”

With no working fire extinguisher, in the heat of the moment, he attempted to clear the debris by hand when it seems a fuel line caught fire. In that sudden small burst of fire, his right hand was burned with first and second-degree burns.

Carter is thankful that was the worst, as in less than a minute it seemed, the combine exploded into flames. Fuel, along with hydraulic lines carrying oil, was feeding the fire.

The Carter men got away from the burning machine and knew they had lost that battle.

Ryan placed a 911 call for help to fight the fire, but, Kenton area is known to have poor cell phone service and his account reflects the anxiety this caused.

“I got a call in to 911 but… the call had dropped. I kept trying and wasn’t getting through. 911 had left me a voice mail, so I ended up calling a neighbour who’s on the fire department and that call didn’t get through. Eventually, I did get hold of 911 to finish the call. I don’t know if she had put a dispatch out already. I had given her the location but… I wasn’t confident if she had got everything I had said. At that point, I assumed that I hadn’t made full contact with her.”

A post on Woodworth (Kenton) Fire Department Facebook says, “At 1507 hrs (about 3 p.m.) Friday, Sept 3, we were paged out to a unknown fire south of Kenton on 21 Hwy, after talking to 911.

“The caller was having difficulty with cellphone reception and kept getting cut-off. After several attempts, they were able to get that it was a combine and field fire. Upon arrival, the combine was fully involved and not salvageable so we turned our attention to the standing wheat that was burning out of control being pushed by some strong wind gusts towards a neighbour’s standing canola field.”

The fire was near Sifton municipality and Woodworth fire chief called for Sifton’s help to rein in the fire and to minimize crop damage. 

“Short (of) manpower we requested mutual aid from Oak Lake/Sifton fire (department) and along with some great neighbours who helped out, and we were able to get it stopped.”

FELLOW FARMERS ASSIST

Farmer and former Woodworth fire chief Ken Bond spotted the fire from his field about five miles away.He had called me from the field. He offered to bring over his tractor and disc,” said Carter. Considering a vulnerable nearby canola field, he told Bond to come.

“He did get there and was successful at putting some of the fire out. It did help immensely to have him there.”

Between the two fire departments and the neighbour creating a fireguard, crop damage was contained to 45 acres of the wheat field and kept out of the nearby canola crop.

In retrospect, Carter says that working fire extinguishers are an important first line of defence. “I’d never had them checked. They were original on the combine - learn a good lesson about having them checked by a professional and having them recharged.”

The struggle to access a second line of defence, the 911 call, was stressful. “It’s beyond frustrating, especially in times like that,” says Carter.

During harvest, every hour counts to get the ripened crop off the field. Carter was just over half done his harvest. This fire destroyed the combine and stole valuable hours.

However, when the fire was out, Carters’ neighbour Robert Stevenson moved in and finished up the field. Meanwhile, Carter headed off to find a rental combine.

He reflects, “Combines can be replaced, fields (of grain) can be replaced.”