Without a home: Arnold Simon of New England loses nearly everything in Monday's grass fireA New England farmer is homeless after a grass and field fire engulfed his entire farm Monday.
RURAL NEW ENGLAND — A New England farmer is homeless after a grass and field fire engulfed his entire farm Monday.
Arnold Simon, 82, said he was fixing a fence Monday when he saw heavy smoke closing in on his property, approximately six miles north of New England.
Save for his cattle, a pick-up and one tractor, Simon said the fire claimed all his equipment. Simon added that when he realized there was no place to sleep Monday night, he crawled into his pick-up and closed his eyes.
“I didn’t have any trouble sleeping,” he said.
As Simon prepared to bring hay to his cattle Tuesday, he said he has no idea what his next move is.
He also said he has lived on the farm his whole life, and that the property has been in his family since his grandfather homesteaded here from Austria-Hungary.
“I guess I haven’t gotten used to (the news),” Simon said as he glanced around his blackened and smoking property. Open flames could still be seen on parts of his farm.
“If I need something and go to get it, I remember that the house is gone,” he said.
Many neighbors, colleagues and family members have stepped in to help out, Simon said. Kyle Koppinger, Simon’s nephew, added that some people delivered food to the farm after the fire.
New England Fire Chief Joe Kathrein said Simon has lost enough, and he deserved some help.
“He lost his house and everything. He’s basically got his pick-up and the shirt on his back,” Kathrein said. “I’m just in the works of working with our Hettinger County Sheriff’s Department and seeing what we can do for him.”
Kathrein said Monday’s fire started just before 3 p.m. when the ashes from a previous fire reignited near Highway 22, approximately 15 miles south of Dickinson. He added that firefighters did not finish dousing the flames until 9 p.m.
Additionally, flames reached about 5,000 acres of land, leaving a swath of smoldering destruction two miles wide and four miles long.
“(Wert Farms) decided to move the ashes yesterday,” he said Tuesday, adding that Wert Farms burned a pile of trees about two weeks ago. “The little embers must have jumped out and caught on the grass and stubble.”
John Wert was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital on Monday for burns, Kathrein said. Authorities will not say if he has been released.
In addition to Simon’s farm, Kathrein said the fire claimed an abandoned farmstead further east. Low visibility caused by heavy smoke led to a collision on Highway 22, he added.
Koppinger said he cares for his uncle, and believes Simon needs to move on.
“He can’t keep staying out here,” Koppinger said. “He has no water. There’s no electricity.”
For Simon, letting go is easier said than done, but he is mustering the strength to move on.
“Maybe I should really get a house in town,” he said. “I’d hate to look at this mess here every day.”