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Dry and windy conditions lead to western Iowa fire outbreaks

A large plume of smoke rises over a field in Harrison County.
Courtesy of Harrison County Sheriff's Office
A large fire started in Harrison County over the weekend.

Twelve community fire departments, with the support of local farmers and county emergency management teams, worked to suppress a large fire in southwest Iowa on Sunday.

The fire broke out near Harrison County’s small town of Mondamin in an already-harvested soybean field. It spread quickly, as up to 50 mile per hour wind gusts carried flames across 3,000 acres.

Investigators are still looking into what caused the fire. Although it’s not suspected to have been started by a combine, local officials are warning farmers to be careful while harvesting amid dry and windy conditions.

Loess Hills Land Stewardship Director Kody Wohlers is asking farmers to till the perimeter of their fields. He said can help local volunteer departments by limiting a fire’s spread.

“Whatever we can do to help them, it keeps them safer, as well as protects private property of other citizens within our community,” he said. “It just really is a team effort.”

Local farmers played a major role in suppressing Sunday’s outbreak. They responded alongside local volunteer fire departments, the Harrison County Sheriff’s office, Missouri Valley Police Department, Iowa State Patrol, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Harrison County Emergency Management and Shelby County Emergency Management.

The Mondamin Fire Department estimates around $500,000 in crop and other damages. Fire Chief Brian Rife said local farmers were key to preventing any structural damage in the area.

“It was pretty amazing to see the amount of farmers showing up with tractors and discs. I don't think we could have suppressed the fire without them,” he said.

It took nearly nearly five hours to contain the fire, Rife said.

Two police cars sit in a street. Behind them, clouds of smoke rise up from the field fire.
Courtesy of Harrison County Sheriff's Department
Emergency responders across 12 communities and 2 counties helped to stop a fire in Mondamin over the weekend.

Large fires in Fremont and Montgomery counties in western Iowa were also reported on Sunday. The outbreaks come as all of Iowa faces dry or drought conditions, according to the Iowa Drought Monitor.

Harrison County emergency management coordinator Phillip Davis said the dry conditions – which have persisted in the region for two years – have increased the reports to which local small volunteer fire departments have to respond.

“It definitely puts a stress level on all the departments,” Davis said. “But, going into harvest season, this is our time where we have our most significant field fires and things like that.”

Statewide, 28 counties are under burn bans, including Harrison County, according to the State Fire Marshal website.

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.