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There is suspicion of arson in Hillsdale and Lenawee counties after wheat fields catch on fire, again

Waldron Fire Department
Posted at 5:45 PM, Jul 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-18 20:08:36-04

WALDRON, Mich. — Two wheat fields went up in flames in Waldron and Morenci last week. Authorities are investigating the fires as arson.

It happened last Tuesday, but this isn’t the first time firefighters have had to deal with this. According to authorities, they've had to respond to wheat field fires in the recent past.

Authorities say this usually happens in July, when it's prime wheat season, and they dealt with fires last year.

“I’d say there’s probably been a dozen where we’ve suspected some sort of arson, and then less of those we’ve actually found some sort of ignition device in the field,” Morenci Fire Department Capt. Colin Richardson said.

Wright-Waldron Fire Department Chief Dennis McNett said when he responded to that specific fire in Waldron, there were eyewitness reports that two people were near the fire. One suspect jumped in a lighter colored car and took off and the other suspect took off on foot.

McNett says enough is enough.

“I mean it’s kind of stupid if you ask me,” McNett said. “For us, we try to do right by the farmer because that’s our community, but this guy or these persons do not care about anything. So, you can lose a lot. I mean a fire department can go out there, get stuck in a wet hole we don’t know about and lose their whole entire truck and maybe personnel. To me, it isn’t worth it.”

Both fires were put out within an hour. Waldron Assistant Fire Chief Shawn Barnhart responded to both fires.

He says in 2021, he responded to a 15-acre field fire which lost $15,000 to $20,000 just in wheat.

“It’s very frustrating and nobody has gotten caught yet,” he said. “They are always a step ahead of us. Nobody is on a rural road like that. Knowing there isn’t much traffic on that road, it gets ahead of us.”

The Geib family owns one farm that has been impacted by these fires. They estimate this is their third or fourth wheat stubble fire.

Jen Geib believes they were lucky it wasn’t worse. They did not lose any equipment or their homes, but they did lose about $1,600 in potential wheat yields.

She says she wouldn’t trade farming for anything but dealing with issues like this is stressful.

“You’re fighting Mother Nature, and her wanting to rain and usually you want to get everything done that you can,” she said. “On top of that, you have this happen when someone sets your field on fire, and you got to move equipment. Luckily, we weren’t in that field. Only one piece of equipment had to be moved. It was salvaged. But, it just adds more to the stress and frustration because you literally put blood, sweat and tears into it and it’s gone.”

Now, the small communities near the Ohio border are calling for justice.

“Just stay vigilant,” Richardson said. “Farmers can take an extra trip around their fields at night kind of keeping an eye out for people. If you know any citizens are out and about on a back road, and they see somebody walking through a field, see something, say something. If it looks suspicious say something, especially in this time. We’re getting a lot of them."

Geib said had the fires jumped over to where their equipment was at, they could have lost more than $500,000 worth of equipment.

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