By Erin Mathews
Salina Journal – October 26, 2014
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – October 31, 2014
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An Assaria man was in critical condition Saturday evening in the burn unit at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis after he was severely electrically shocked while attempting to assist the driver of a piece of farm equipment that had come into contact with high voltage electric lines, authorities said.
Zachary Short, 24, was flown to the Wichita hospital after he touched the electrically charged tractor and grain cart shortly before 1 p.m. near the intersection of Ohio Street and Farrelly Road, Saline County Sheriff’s deputy Chad Flesher said.
Flesher said John Tinkler, 55, Short and two other men had finished cutting Tinkler’s soybean field on the east side of Ohio that morning, and after their lunch break they parked a semitrailer on the side of the road to load the beans into.
Tinkler went to get the tractor pulling the grain cart but didn’t notice or didn’t think about the uploading auger boom being extended on the grain cart, Flesher said.
Flesher said the semi had been parked under power lines that ran along the side of Ohio, and when Tinkler pulled up next to the semi, the auger boom that would have transferred the soybeans into the semi came in contact with the power lines.
Tinkler was unaware that the lines had been contacted, but the electric current apparently caused sparks, and he smelled something burning and looked back to see one of the tractor’s tires on fire, Flesher said. He radioed for someone to bring a fire extinguisher from the service truck and got out of the tractor cab.
Felt a jolt
Flesher said Tinkler felt a jolt as he brushed against the grain cart but didn’t realize the extent of the problem.
Short got a fire extinguisher from the service truck and was vaulting over the hitch between the tractor and grain cart when he was thrown backwards and collapsed against the frame of the grain cart, Flesher said.
He said one of the other men helping with the harvest found a plastic shovel in the truck and was able to move Short away from the electric current with the shovel.
The power lines had become tangled around the auger and were pulled onto the tractor, which became fully engulfed in flames, said Saline County Rural Fire District No. 2 Chief Jim Preston. He said the power lines were in their normal position prior to the incident–the unloading auger just didn’t clear them.
Flesher said the power lines “melted and draped on top of the tractor.”
“They were arcing and sparking, and you don’t want to throw water on live electricity,” Flesher said.
The fire burned hot because of the fuel and oil and totally destroyed the tractor, as well as heavily damaging the grain cart, Preston said. Firefighters had to allow the tractor to burn until the fire burned the wires off and Westar Energy workers got the power cut.
“It was not safe to do anything until they got the power shut off,” Preston said.
Mike Bowers, a spokesman for Westar, said eight area customers were without power as a result of the incident Saturday afternoon until the electricity could be re-routed.