HORACE, N.D. — Robert Carroll had just delivered a Forum newspaper to one of his rural Horace customers about 3 a.m. Thursday morning, Dec. 19, when he noticed smoke coming from a nearby piece of machinery.

When he looked closer, he could see flames coming from the metal structure and immediately called 911.

Recalling the incident Thursday afternoon, Carroll said the 911 dispatcher advised him to knock on the door of the nearby farmstead to alert the residents to the fire, and that's what he did.

Carroll, 41, said the dispatcher then asked him to drive to a nearby intersection and leave his hazard lights on so responding emergency workers would have an easier time finding the rural residence.

He did that, too.

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Rural fire departments that included Horace, Kindred and Davenport responded to the blaze, which took several hours to put out and involved a grain dryer that was drying corn at the time the fire started.

Tony Cullen, chief of the Horace volunteer fire department, said if the fire had gone unnoticed, it's likely flames would have spread, possibly to a nearby grain bin containing a large amount of corn.

"It could have filled the other bin with flames," Cullen said.

Carroll, who has had the route for several years, said he's delivered papers to the farmstead south of Horace many times and never noticed a problem, but there was something different Thursday morning.

"There was a little bit of smoke, but I wasn't sure if that piece of equipment was giving off steam because of the cold," Carroll said.

"As I drove by, I looked back and I saw that there were some flames shooting out of it," he added, estimating the outdoor temperature at that time was about 9 degrees.

"I drive by there every night and I've never seen that piece of machinery look like that before, so I thought I better call it in," Carroll said.