NORTH MANKATO — A burnt hay wagon will be keeping its place along Lookout Drive, with its scorched metal roof and charred wooden floor, until its owner finds out how it caught on fire.
Tom Depuydt suspects the dry hay inside his wagon was ignited by two kids he saw in the area around the time of the July 10 fire. He built the wagon about 10 years ago and used it to sell hay bales on the honor system.
The North Mankato firefighter in charge of the crew who put the fire out said he’s not convinced arson was involved. Assistant Fire Chief Rich Inman also said arson wasn’t investigated at the time of the fire because Depuydt didn’t mention anything about seeing boys in the area at the time.
Depuydt’s wagon is at the end of his driveway at 1562 Lookout Drive. He has a welding shop next to his house and was working on a lawn mower when Tim Stromer drove in to tell him a hay bail was on fire.
Stromer happened to be driving past on Lookout Drive when he saw the small fire on one bale in the front of the wagon. By the time Depuydt was warned and came out with a pitch fork, the fire had spread.
“It was too gone by that point,” Stromer said this week.
The two men did what they could to break the fire apart until the firefighters arrived. Depuydt also didn’t mention seeing any kids during the stressful situation, Stromer said.
Spontaneous combustion has been considered as one of many possibilities for how the fire started. After thinking about that and the fact that spontaneous combustion usually requires moisture, Depuydt said he started thinking more about the kids he saw around the wagon. He said he was facing the wagon while he was working on the lawn mower.
“I know what I saw,” Depuydt said. “I was working under the open overhead door of the shop facing the open road. I could see them between the trees and the wagon.”
He estimates the two boys were between the ages of 10 and 13. He’s offering a $250 reward for anyone who can identify the boys because, if they did start the fire, Depuydt wants them to get help now instead of later.
“I’m not going to move the wagon until these boys are provided help,” he said.
“I’m not asking for pity or anything. I just want people to be aware. I think it’s good to do something instead of nothing.”
Inman said he’s not ruling out the possibility that the fire was started on purpose. There has been one other incident recently where a large metal trash bin caught fire at an apartment complex several blocks away from Depuydt’s house.
Like the hay bales, though, it’s hard to tell for sure if that fire was arson. It’s just as possible that someone accidentally dropped a smoldering cigarette or some other heat source in the bin.
“A cigarette can literally smolder for hours and hours,” Inman said. “At this time we don’t have any reason to believe the fires were anything but an accident.”
However, if the one or both of the fires were arson, it would be better to talk to those responsible sooner rather than later, Inman said. So firefighters and police would like to hear from anyone who has any information about the hay wagon fire.
It was reported at about 5:30 p.m. July 10. Anyone with information can call the North Mankato Police Department at 625-4141 or anonymous tips can be left at firstname.lastname@example.org.