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Posted on Apr 23, 2015

Haystack fires cost farmers $400,000

Five intentionally set haystack fires have cost local farmers more than $400,000 in the past month.
The Grant County Fire Marshal is investigating the Quincy-area fires as related incidents, said Bruce Gribble, county fire marshal. However, no suspects have been identified at this time, Gribble said on Wednesday.

The five fires occurred between about midnight and 3 a.m. between April 1 and April 12, according to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.

The fires were at the following locations:

April 1: 11723 Martin Road N.W.
April 4: 19605 Road 6 N.W.
April 9: 14994 Road 11 N.W.
April 11: 17794 Road 11 N.W.
April 12: Highway 28 at Road H.7 N.W.

It seems like the area sees a rash of haystack fires every few years, said Kyle Foreman, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

And the suspected arsonists can be difficult to find because the crime occurs in the dark of the night, Gribble said. The fire marshal is investigating whether the fires are gang-related, Gribble said.

Up with a sick child at 2 a.m. on April 9, local farmer Bart Yeates looked out his window and saw his neighbor’s haystack lighting up the night sky. The incident prompted him to renew the insurance on his haystack. Two days later, Yeates was hit. Seventy-five tons of straw was destroyed.

When he went down to the fire, Yeates noticed gang-related tagging on the tarp. The tarp had been spray-painted with graffiti that appeared to have been crossed off and covered over by more markings, he said.

After watching many of their neighbors lose their haystacks, the fires have become an annual worry for many local farmers, he said. At times like these, some farmers will begin guarding their hay. Others will put up cameras or pay for insurance on their haystacks, Yeates said.

“It doesn’t happen every year, but it happens often enough,” Yeates said. “It’s sad to watch somebody maliciously destroy somebody’s work.”

Yeates said he is chasing trespassers out of his orchards on a weekly basis. Theft has become a big concern for area farmers, he said.

This is the first haystack Yeates has lost to arson. While he had insurance on his stack, it still stings.

“I don’t know if everyone can appreciate how much work goes into those haystacks,” Yeates said.

And, in a matter of minutes, all that hard work can be destroyed, he added.

“To have somebody just take it away from you just to be reckless …” Yeates said.

The Quincy area has not seen a suspicious haystack fire in about two weeks. Gribble is holding out hope that the destruction is over.

“At least, if nothing else, we have stopped it for now,” he said.

The sheriff and the fire marshal are asking the public for any information about suspicious people or vehicles seen in the area of any of the fires. They are also warning farmers to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

If anyone has possible information about the haystack fires, contact the Grant County Sheriff’s Office at 762-1160, or send information to crimetips@grantcountywa.gov. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

 

— By Jill FitzSimmons, editor@qvpr.com

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