Farmers, firefighters tame massive field fire near Villa Grove

Farmers, firefighters tame massive field fire near Villa Grove

VILLA GROVE — Five farmers with chisel plows played a huge role in containing a massive field fire south of Villa Grove on Saturday afternoon.

Villa Grove Fire Chief Ross Elston said firefighters were called to Douglas County Road 1250 N and 1450 E about 2 miles southwest of Villa Grove at 2 p.m.

"As soon as we got outside of town we could see how big it was," he said.

The fire, whipped by wind "about as bad as it can get," Elston said, spread quickly to the southeast for about a mile to the Embarras River. One farmer reported sustained winds of 40 mph as the fields burned, Elston said.

About 30 firefighters from seven area departments in southern Champaign County and Douglas County joined Villa Grove in putting out the smoky fire while an eighth department stood by at their station for other calls.

"We're pretty sure it was started by a piece of farm equipment," Elston said.

No equipment or dwellings were damaged even though three houses were close enough to the blaze to be threatened. Another resident on the east side of the Embarras River evacuated horses as a precaution.

Elston said five farmers plowed under corn and bean stubble while firefighters worked on protecting the homes.

"That is the biggest asset you can have on a field fire. They chiseled it all underground. There were three on the north and two on the south and they went up and down and up and down," he said.

The smoke was so heavy that Illinois State Police assisted the fire departments in stopping traffic on Illinois 130 for about an hour due to almost zero visibility. Elston said a fellow firefighter could see the smoke from just north of Mattoon, about 30 miles away.

"The column was very high and very dark," he said.

The last firefighters to clear left at 4:46 p.m.

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