Combine fire damages start of harvest for farmer

The excitement for the start of the harvest ignited within minutes at Ropp Farms near Normal in McLean County.

And that left veteran farmer Ken Ropp and his farm manager, Brett Yoder, thankful that there were no injuries or major losses on their farm except for a burnt down John Deere 9600.

“First of all, safety first when it comes to harvesting,” Ken said as he removed the head of corn from the combine that was destroyed on September 28. “We hear this year after year, and sometimes you take things like that for granted.

“I think the first 24 hours (after escaping the combine fire on Friday September 24) I was just in shock. Then I woke up this Saturday morning, and it hit me, ”he noted. “It lets you look at your friends, family and business from a whole new perspective. “

The day of the fire started innocently enough. Ropp was delighted to start harvesting a little earlier than expected, due to the rapid drying of the crops in recent weeks.

But, after harvesting the first 3½ acres of corn, the excitement quickly turned to panic, fear and adrenaline rush.

“The wind was really strong that day, I noticed it coming straight from the south,” said Ropp. “So as I was running north-south rows, of course when I was heading north I had a lot of rods and things circling around the cabin. I thought it was strange – so much wind and so much drought. Then I got to the north end of the field, and Brett waved me out.

This is because Yoder could see what was going on behind the combine, unbeknownst to Ropp at the time.

“I was coming back from the elevator and thought I smelled a puff of smoke. I walked around the end of the field and saw flames coming out of the back of the combine, ”said Yoder. “First and foremost I wanted to get (Ropp) out of the combine and then see what we could do to save grain and equipment. “

Once the two got out of their vehicles, they called the fire department and started stomping on the flames to keep the entire field from going up in smoke. They also managed to get a grain car out of harm’s way.

“Trying to plug in the wagon while I was on the phone with the 911 operator was just a crazy time,” Yoder said. “I didn’t think we would get out (the wagon), but we somehow did.”

Local fire departments arrived at the scene within minutes and extinguished the combine fire without any further damage to the field, to the nearby house of Ray and Carol Ropp, or to the Ropps dairy, famous for his Ropp Jersey Cheese.

“Congratulations to Carlock and Hudson Fire. They had three vehicles here – it always seems like an eternity when this happens – but in just 15 minutes they had three pipes on it and turned them off, ”Ropp said.

He immediately filed a claim with Country Financial, which arranged to remove the remains from the combine. Cross Implement of Minier quickly located a recently released John Deere 9760. Ropp sent his existing corn header and kernel rig for modifications and planned to return to the cabin to harvest soon.

“The first three tickets, the corn was around 18% (on the day of the fire), so there’s no doubt it’s dry enough,” Ropp said. “We were about a week to 10 days behind everyone in receiving the corn, so I figured we would have a better head start. But, those 90 degree days and strong winds, we had changed everything.

Ropp Farms consists of four owners and includes Ray and Carol, Ken and Becky and their daughter, Leah. They started making their own cheese on the farm in 2006 and since 2007 have used 100% of their milk for their famous cheese.

This story was released as part of a cooperative project between the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more information on food and farming, visit

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