Firefighters put out the last hot spots in a burning hay field in Auburn Wednesday afternoon.

AUBURN – A man collapsed Wednesday afternoon while battling a fire that started when hay in a trailer ignited and spread to a field on Riverside Drive.

Witnesses said Roger Gauthier was haying his 3 acres next to Penley Corner Church at about 5 p.m. when the back of his hay cart went up in flames.

A hay trailer burns Wednesday in an Auburn, spreading flames to the field. Joanna Said photo

Joanna Said was driving to Livermore from Brunswick when she saw the drama unfold.

“I was driving by and I thought, that’s a lot of fire,” she said. “The man was out there trying to kick the hay away. He was out there in all that smoke and I was worried about him.”

Said and half a dozen others called 911, but the flames were quickly spreading from the trailer to the field as burning piles of hay tumbled out.

“The flames were pretty high,” Said said. “They were bright orange and they must have been at least twice as high as the hay cart.”

While rescue crews were on the way, Gauthier got help from his wife and from several neighbors. When Bill Sylvester saw the flames from his home, he grabbed his fire extinguisher and ran over.

Just one problem.

“It was empty,” Sylvester said.

So Sylvester joined Gauthier and two other women in trying to stomp out the flames in temperatures that topped 80 degrees. At one point, witnesses said, Gauthier, said to be in his 60s, collapsed from heat and exhaustion.

“He just kind of sat down and rolled over,” Sylvester said. “That’s way more excitement than he’s used to.”

By then, fire crews had arrived and were battling the blaze. A paramedic tended to Gauthier, who got back to his feet, tired and hot but otherwise well.

Auburn firefighters ultimately doused the flames.

Some witnesses said that when they first saw the flames, they thought the Penley Corner Church was on fire — and less than two weeks before their once-a-year open house on July 14. But the flames did not reach the church and other than the hay that was lost, damage was said to be minimal.

It was not clear what caused the hay to catch fire. The blaze remained under investigation Wednesday night.


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