By Ron VandenBoom
GILDFORD It was more than a little surprising to combine driver Don Miller when in the middle of harvesting he smelled smoke after turning a corner in the wheat field he leases from Janice Flynn Pyrak north of Gildford.
A brief glimpse over his shoulder confirmed that all was not well. Flames were shooting up from one of the combine's large tires.
Miller dismounted the combine, taking his radio, tools, and a few other small items, and called his son, David, on the radio.
"They got the fire department," Miller said.
That was about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and looking back, Miller said he feels lucky the fuel tank didn't explode.
The tires were burning and the heat from the fire was so intense that it melted the aluminum inside the combine, causing it to run out of the machine and down the furrows in the field.
The Gildford Fire Department responded and extinguished the blaze. They also built a fire break around the combine to prevent additional fires from breaking out in the stubble field surrounding the now destroyed and charred piece of machinery.
The fire department personnel left about 6 p.m., Miller said.
But that's not the end of the story.
About 7 p.m., Miller said, the wind had calmed and he returned to his shop leaving the combine in the field a total loss.
At about 9 p.m., the wind had started gusting and he returned to the combine to make sure everything was OK. This time Jay Flynn, Mike Johnson, and Miller's son David were also at the scene.
"Sparks were flying out of the combine," said Flynn.
The grain about 160 bushels of grain that Miller had left in the combine was burning like molten lava.
Miller rushed to get his water truck, while the trio of firefighters worked to remove the grain from the combine and extinguish the blaze.
"We had to chop holes in the side of the combine to get the grain out," Flynn said.
It was 10:30 p.m. before the fire was again contained and the ad hoc firefighters were able to return home.
Miller said he has to wait for the insurance adjusters to examine the now worthless combine before disposing of it.
"It'll smash down pretty flat," he said.
The value of the lost grain Miller expects will be covered by his crop and hail insurance policy and he is already talking to his neighbor about harvesting the remaining five acres of the crop he was unable to finish.
Miller said he knows of at least two other combines and one baler that also have been destroyed so far this year near Cut Bank due to extremely dry weather conditions, dry grain dust, and hot equipment.