This fire charred 50 acres in northwest Iowa.

This fire charred 50 acres in northwest Iowa.

A wildfire spread quickly across an open field in northwest Iowa on Thursday afternoon, charring about 50 acres of farmland along the border of Plymouth and Sioux counties. Six fire departments responded.

Le Mars Fire Chief Dave Schipper says a spark from a passing freight train is thought to have started the fire. Chief Schipper says, “I don’t know if it was a bearing or a brake that they threw and it sparked or the wheels on the rail itself, but it appears right there at 100th Avenue and the train tracks is where this started from the train, and with the winds, spread west and south and north as fast as it wanted to until we put a stop to it.”

Train traffic had to be halted temporarily as crews doused the fires. Schipper says the gusting winds and the thawing ground made for challenging conditions. “We were out there a couple of hours, six fire departments, 40-plus firefighters,” he says. “These types of days with the wind and the dryness of conditions, a couple of the other towns had trucks get stuck. It’s dry on top, but the frost is coming up and it’s just mud. It makes it very difficult to fight these types of fires.”

At least five Iowa counties, all in the southwest, enacted bans on open burning this week due to dry conditions.

(Picture and story by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars)