Two separate combine fires last week interrupted harvest and tested the firefighting resources of Wallowa County. Neither fire produced injuries to anything but crops. And Wallowa County’s firefighters, including the U.S. Forest Service helitack and ground-based teams, and Oregon Department of Forestry, effectively and efficiently quenched both blazes before they could spread very far.
A combine-sparked fire charred about 15 acres of the Melville farm’s pea crop, causing an estimated $10,000 in crop loss on the afternoon of Wednesday August 28. The fire sent a thick plume of grey and white smoke into the air. Wallowa County Emergency Services Manager Paul Karvoski called in 13 fire engines, five tenders, and the U.S. Forest Service helicopter, which bucketed water out of nearby Prairie Creek to drop on the blaze, helping to control the fire. Enterprise, Joseph, Oregon Department of Forestry, and U.S. Forest Service firefighters responded. Grain Growers and Wallowa County sent their tankers and fire tenders as well. The spread of the blaze was quickly controlled, aided by the fact that Kurt Melville, who was driving the combine, parked that rig in a safe space, and used a nearby tractor that had a disk on it to plow a control line across one side of the blaze before fire fighters got there. “We got on it real quick, Karvoski said. “It didn’t spread very far.” Tim, Audry, Kurt, and Heather Melville all expressed gratitude to the firefighters. “It’s a wonderful community that looks out for each other,” Heather said. “We are so very grateful for the help.”
Then, on Thursday, a combine operated by Jeff Tovey caught fire in the Lathrop’s wheat field about 10 miles northwest of Enterprise on Golf Course Road. Preliminary estimates were that about 50 acres burned, including about 2 to 3 acres of the uncut wheat in the field. A portion of an adjacent pasture belonging to the Lathrop’s neighbor Stan Terry also burned. Again, response by firefighters and neighbors was quick and effective. The weather pitched in with light rain about the time the fire was mostly out. The Lostine Fire Department responded, although they were not called out. They arrived quickly and likely saved the combine. “We went anyway. It’s just what neighbors do,” said Lostine volunteer firefighter Krag Norton. Other responders included the Enterprise Fire Department, Oregon Department of Forestry, and U.S. Forest Service. Mike Matiaco, a heavy equipment operator for the Oregon Dept of Forestry, dozed a line around much of the fire. Neighbors also responded with tractors, plows, water tanks, shovels, and elbow grease. “Everybody who lives out here came to help,” said Tami Lathrop. She noted that this was one of their best wheat crops in years.
Photos: 1) Members of the Lathrop, Stonebrink, Calrey, and Macon families work to stop the fire from crossing Golf Course Road. 2) Mike Matiaco, a heavy equipment operator for the Oregon Dept of Forestry, dozed a line around much of the fire. 3) Krag Norton of the Lostine Fire Department hoses down a few remaining hotspots, while a USFS crew helps with mop-up.