By Connor Lynch
BELLEVILLE — Most farmers are used to spending long hours in the cab but it can backfire when machinery overheats. One farmer was lucky to escape with his life.
Belleville-area farmer Jarred Craig had been running the combine all day. His 2019 corn crop was hanging around like a bad smell, having refused to mature or dry down, and he was taking some of the last of it off on May 6. About 1,000 yards off Harmony Rd., he got started at 9:30 a.m. and ran all day. It was around 5:30 p.m. when he emptied the combine and gave it a walk around before hopping back on. On his second pass through the field, dashboard lights flashed warning him of high voltage and hydraulic pressure. A stoplight turned on. He stopped the combine, opened the door and hopped out to be greeted by smoke and fire.
A black cloud three times larger than the combine was billowing out. The entire back end was engulfed in flames. Craig went for his portable extinguisher but abandoned it when a small explosion, a pop that he thinks was hydraulic fluid or the oil filter boiling and bursting, cracked in the air. He stepped away and called 911 as four more pops followed.
It was about 15 minutes before the fire department arrived, and the combine was utterly destroyed, Craig said. It was insured, valued at about $250,000.
What bothers Craig the most, he said, is how quickly everything happened. There was nothing amiss when he walked around the combine, and it took about 20 minutes to do those two passes. In that time the combine went from a perfectly fine-looking machine to a flaming hulk.
Still, Craig counts himself as fortunate. After all, his five-year-old nephew had just gone home an hour before the firestorm. “He’d spent the whole day (with me),” Craig said.
The situation, and sheer speed of the eruption highlights for Craig the importance of the Emily Project, a local initiative to get numbered roadside signs next to unmarked farm fields. The project was started by a local farm family after their daughter, Emily Trudeau, died in a farm accident. They lost time when the responding ambulance drove past their field.
The project has seen some adoption locally and in other areas of the province, but Craig said it needs provincial attention to really get off the ground and his close encounter shows just how important that is.
A friend offered to harvest the rest of his corn. Meantime, Craig has no apprehension about getting back in the cab. “It’s just bad luck. That’s all it is.”