OCONTO – A fire erupted around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, June 29 on Pressey West Road and Road 786, north of Oconto and near Pressey Park and the Pressey State Wildlife Management Area.
Calls went out at 11:16 to three Custer County fire departments, all of whom swiftly arrived on the scene: Oconto, Broken Bow, and Callaway. Oconto Fire Chief Cliff Badgley said that according to the call, a hay bale was the most likely culprit of the blaze.
“They said they’d ground some hay about forty-five days ago, and it might’ve been some wet hay that just sat there and smoldered. It got hot enough that when the oxygen got to it ignited; spontaneous combustion’s what it is.”
The fire burst roughly half a mile from a nearby house, the owners of which, Troy and Yvette Mannon, were heaving the plows of two green tractors, helping to move heaps of burning grass through the churning wall of white smoke.
The fire departments were on hand, according to another firefighter present, not to extinguish the blaze outright with water, but to make sure the tractors turning the hay and stamping out the blaze stayed cool, and their operators safe. Dousing the flames would be futile, he said, because it would allow the hay to smolder again, most likely for days, which would be dangerous considering the county’s ongoing bout with heat, dryness, and wind.
Emergency services arrived in such great numbers to monitor the fire’s movements as it burned itself out, because, the firefighter said, pointing to the brittle, straw-like grass on a nearby hill, that’s where they would have a problem.
When KBBN/KCNI arrived at the fire at noon, it was mostly contained, according to Badgley. “It’s pretty well contained right here,” he said. “We’re going to break it apart with the tractors so it gets burned up.”