KANAWHA — LaVonne Smidt fled her rural Kanawha home Thursday afternoon due to a field fire raging nearby.
She said she was watching TV, and when she got up to answer the phone she saw a little smoke.
A few minutes later, she noticed it had gotten a lot worse. Smidt lives at 605 120th St., Kanawha.
“There was so much smoke that you couldn’t see nothing,” she said. “It just came up so fast. I was just shaking. I didn’t know what to do.”
Officials ordered her to evacuate and she went to her sister’s house in Kanawha.
“I never prayed so hard as I did going into town,” Smidt said.
Several hours later her sister brought her back to get some clothes and Smidt was going to spend the night in town.
“It’s (a fire like this) something you hear about but you don’t ever think its going to happen to you,” she said.
Officials urged farmers to leave the fields in advance of the fires and Hancock County Attorney Karen Salic reported the worst fires were in fields west of Kanawha, between 110th and 120th and Ford to Grant Avenues.
Multiple fire departments across North Iowa were asked to fight the fires.
One of the worst fires, a large conflagration west of Kanawha, broke out at 1:45 p.m.
“It all started in a bean field where a guy was combining (soy) beans,” said Kanawha Fire Chief J.R. Langfitt. “The stubble caught on fire. It crossed almost a mile and a half section and a mile long.”
A spark from the combine started the fire, according to Langfitt.
No structures were damaged and no one was injured, he said.
One fire truck was staged at Smidt’s home, and another at the home of David W. Johnson, to protect them from the fire, according to Langfitt.
He said every fire department in Hancock County was called to the scene.
“The biggest challenge is during the day to have enough help. Today was an exceptional day. We actually did have quite a good response with guys right away. When we first left for the Britt fire we had eight guys coming,” Chief Langfitt said.
The crew split to cover the Kanawha fire.
He called for assistance from Corwith and Wesley right away.
“Then once I was able to get out here and we saw how big it was, we requested more mutual aid. With a fire like this, eight to 10 guys just can’t handle it.”
Firefighters were also helped by local farmers with chisel plows who tilled the soil trying to construct fire breaks to keep the flames from spreading.
No one was hurt when a tractor overturned when a farmer tried to construct a fire break. Chief Langfitt said the man got caught in smoke and lost control of the tractor.
Firefighters were still extinguishing “hot spots” late Thursday afternoon.
The Kanawha Fire Department was assisted by Britt, Goodell, Klemme, Garner, Belmond, Corwith and Wesley.
Marv Stupka lives five miles east of Kanawha and he said he could see the smoke from his place.
“There was a lot of smoke,” Stupka said. “I could see they were getting fire trucks from every direction.”
He saw fire damage when he drove to Corwith to pick up children from school Thursday afternoon.
Multiple fires, fanned by high winds, claimed several corn and soybean fields in North Iowa, which were particularly troublesome in Hancock and Wright counties, according to officials.
Wind gusts of up to 50 to 60 mph, combined with dry conditions, set the stage for fires. Downed trees and power lines were reported throughout the afternoon. Clear Lake firefighters also responded to a fire near B20 Auto.
Rockwell firefighters extinguished a field fire at about 3:52 p.m. Thursday near Thrush Avenue and 190th Street in Cerro Gordo County.
Reporter Laura Bird and Rae Yost, editor of the Forest City Summit, another Lee Enterprises newspaper, contributed to this story.