The Waverly Fire Department responded to a grain bin fire on the southern outskirts of Waverly Thursday night as a portion of 8,000 bushels of corn spontaneously combusted.
Fire Chief Dennis Happel told Waverly Newspapers Friday morning that the grain started to smolder in the lower section of the bin at 407 29th Ave. SW.
“We were there for about five hours, and it was just one of those you have to open up and get to the burning corn,” Happel said.
The Bremer County dispatch received the 911 call at 5:55 p.m. from the Bob and Beth Busch farm, also known as Tri-B on Google Maps. The property is adjacent to Exit 198 of U.S. Highway 218 on the south end of Waverly.
Bob Busch told Waverly Newspapers on Friday said he was doing an inspection of his bins around 4 p.m. Thursday when he noticed the smoke coming out of one of them.
“It had the smell of roasted corn,” Busch said.
“The whole thing is not very bad, not many bushels were burned. The problem is you have to empty the grain bin to get to the problem.”
According to a Waverly police call record of the incident, firefighters arrived about 6 minutes after receipt of the call and reported the smoldering fire about a minute later. Waverly police and ambulance also were on scene for assistance.
Happel said a corn dryer was not the cause of the fire, rather spontaneous combustion.
“It’s just from wet corn sitting in there,” he said. “(Busch) had a dryer on it, but the grain went into the bin wet, and when that happens, you get this issue.”
The fire was isolated to the bin, and no other structures were threatened. There were also no injuries due to the fire.
Happel said this was the first incident this year that his department had to deal with a grain bin fire, but this is not an uncommon occurrence, especially with the condition of this year’s crop.
“You have a fall that’s this wet, and Mother Nature didn’t dry the grain in the field, so then they try to dry it in the bin,” Happel said. “With the propane shortage, etc., they have to try to condition it until they can get propane. It’s been kind of a rough year as far as crops have been concerned.
“This is kind of a perfect storm with all of the elements and the shortage of propane, etc. They’re doing their best to try to get their grain conditioned, so this doesn’t happen, but every now and then, it just happens.”
Busch said it was the first time something like that has happened on his property, on which he’s lived his whole life.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “It’s been a rough year. It’s just one more thing, I guess.”
The fire chief said that his crew handled the incident well.
“It isn’t anything… it’s not an emergency,” Happel said. “It was confined. It was in the bin. It’s not going to go anywhere. It’s just a matter of trying to prevent further damage to anything else.
“It isn’t something that you’re under the gun, you gotta make some quick decisions. It’s more quantitative thinking, I guess, that, ‘Yeah, this will work,’ or, ‘We gotta do this, and before we do this, we gotta do this.’ It’s a whole different scene that a house fire or anything like that.”
Happel said the bin will need a new panel, however the corn can no longer be used for feed.
“It’s my understanding that it can’t be sold as No. 1 corn because of the smoke damage, animals won’t eat it, I guess,” he said. “I’m just going by hearsay, I’m not 100% sure on this.
“Typically, on something like this, the corn goes to the ethanol plant, where they can process it. It’s not for animal consumption after a fire.”
However, Busch said the condition of the grain is to be determined.
“Cattle feeders have been known to use damaged corn like that,” he said.