A Hamilton County farmer will not face a fine for a fire that produced thick, black smoke and contributed to a massive traffic accident on Highway 20 Monday morning. Kevin Baskins, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says officers initially planned to send Mark Hild a “notice of violation” letter.
There’s no penalty associated with the notice, but now Hild won’t even receive the letter. “At the time, some of the people in Mason City who were looking at that determination were unaware that there was also fog in the area at the time (of the crash),” Baskins said.
“So, once they knew that, they felt it was probably too difficult to determine how much the visibility was reduced by the fog and how much was reduced by the smoke from the fire.” The farmer, Mark Hild, was burning old hay bales. The fire produced dark smoke which blew across Highway 20 near Webster City.
Combined with the fog, it created a blackout situation for motorists. More than 30 vehicles were involved in two pileups on the highway. Baskins said there’s no indication Hild intended to create the traffic hazard.
“One of the other factors we heard is there might have been some shifting winds as well,” Baskins said. “Sometimes that can happen with any kind of fire. You look at the conditions and think at the time that you’re doing what’s right, but sometimes nature can change some things around on you.”
The hay bales were wet, which “thickened” the smoke. Baskins said it makes sense to burn grass when it’s wet as there’s less potential for the fire to spread out of control. “The downside to that is sometimes when you have materials that are wet, you get incomplete combustion. That’s what produces that darker, denser smoke,” Baskins said.
Investigators also note that Hild was not burning any prohibited materials. Around a dozen people injured in the chain-reaction crashes were taken to a Webster City hospital. At least two people were said to have serious injuries, but there were no fatalities.