Fire Rips Through Wheat Fields, Kills Farmer, Chars 20,000 Acres

<i> From Associated Press</i>

A 20,000-acre fire raced through a wheat field and swept over a combine, killing a 65-year-old farmer as he tried to flee the advancing flames, a neighbor said Thursday.

A son and daughter-in-law in another combine made it to safety.

Bob Heider died as the fast-moving fire swept through the eastern Washington field he was harvesting, the neighbor said.

The fire was contained Thursday, and firefighters appeared to have the upper hand on an 18,500-acre fire near Bickleton in south-central Washington.


Heider and members of his family were operating the combines in the field about 10 miles east of Ritzville when the fire overtook them Wednesday afternoon.

Winds gusting in excess of 30 mph are blamed for pushing the fire quickly through the dry wheat, stubble and grasses of area farms.

“It was quick and hot,” said Neil Telecky, a neighbor near the Lincoln County line.

There were no other injuries. A half dozen farm homes were in jeopardy, but none burned, the Adams County Sheriff’s office reported.


Telecky’s homestead and barns were spared and stood Thursday like a green island in a sea of charred black.

“It’s beyond anything,” neighbor Lewis Lobe said, his voice trailing off as he surveyed the smoldering hulk of Heider’s combine in the middle of a blackened field. “If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it.”