Fire takes terrible toll on beloved barn

Unthinkable

There are life events that are too horrific to contemplate. We get up each day and go to bed each night and proceed as though the uneventful days are just some sort of mediocrity. In truth, we should be counting our lucky stars for the days in which everything goes right.

Sunday night, Jan. 26, the wind blew so hard, with gusts so incredible, we had a hard time sleeping. We were, in fact, up and down several times that night as the howling wind awakened us.

Alarming discovery

At 5 a.m., I awoke to an orange glow off the snow from our bedroom window. My initial sleepy thought that we were in for a dazzling sunrise immediately shifted, realizing this was an ominous sight. I bolted out of bed, down the upstairs hallway, and saw flames rising from the big barn. I know I shouted.

Flames shooting so high in such powerful winds, I knew, was a frightening situation. I called 911 while in a mad scramble for socks and boots. We could feel the heat before even opening our door to step outside. I grabbed Doug’s coat sleeve and made him promise me he would not try to go in to save the animals. The fire was too far out of control.

Hopeless

The flames were increasing in height and intensity, the west winds blowing embers straight to the east. I knew we had to reach an acceptance that no firefighter could save our beautiful old barn or the animals in it. We had to pray the winds didn’t shift or we could lose much more.

Our son and his wife had spent the night here, preparing to leave early for a vacation. They were married in the barn in May 2013.

We fought helplessness while waiting for volunteer firefighters to arrive. Roads were drifted with blowing snow, slowing the arrival of help. I fought off panic as the flames shot higher in the upper barn and gusting winds fed the inferno. We knew we could potentially lose every building on the farm, including our home. The horror defies description.

My husband later said the moment he opened the door, he felt he was staring the Devil in the eye. The eerie sound of the whistling wind and the hissing fire is a chilling nightmare, and the pain of loss a heavy weight.

Our good friend and neighbor, Dan Raudebaugh, a life-long firefighter, arrived first. He and his wife and boys had been here many times; he knew our sheep, he knew we had a baby lamb born with others due any day, a project we all looked forward to with great anticipation.

Efforts

Dan quickly assessed the situation and when fire trucks arrived, their mission was to save our other buildings. Spraying water as the temperatures hovered somewhere around zero sent icy crystals in to the air. Fire trucks and tankers remained on the road to assure no neighbors were impacted by flying embers. The rest is a blur.

Neighbors, family and friends have helped tremendously, working alongside of Doug every day in sub-zero temperatures to start the clean-up, while also bringing food and encouragement and empathy.

The charred remains of the barn is a sorrowful sight. Firefighters say it was likely a wind-related electrical fire, starting up high.

Losses

Lost in the fire were 26 sheep, one dog, and all of our equipment, tucked in for the winter. Escaping the fire, thankfully, were our two English shepherds, and, we assume, all of the barn cats, likely scattering in fear.

In June, 2013, I wrote the following:

“A barn provides shelter and comfort and a solid, forceful strength; a barn welcomes new life, ever strong and silent as the very old fades in to the sunset. Our barn faces true north and has withstood life’s storms, from floods and lightning to blizzards and gale-force winds.”

* * *

The majestic old barn is what sold us on buying this place. We were in awe of its solid beauty. Built in 1852, it was the most incredible barn we had ever seen.

We loved that barn and felt proud to own it. We respected it and treated it with great care. We felt certain it would outlast all of us. This loss serves as a reminder that we are small, we are only visitors here on this Earth, and nothing in our grasp is ever really ours.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

4 Comments

  1. Barb says:

    My condolences on the loss of your animals. It must be so difficult for you. We too bought our farm because of the magnificence of the barn. Every time I enter it I am amazed at the workmanship and the maze of beams that support the structure. It takes my breath away. It too was built over one hundred years ago, and I often think about all the life that lived in the barn over the years. My greatest fear is fire, and I am so careful with what is in the barn and the activity that happens in the barn. In time, I hope your pain with the loss softens..

  2. IHarlow says:

    My heart broke when I read about your loss. I’m so sorry.

  3. Anissa says:

    Judy,
    My husband and I were so upset to hear of your loss. Losing animals is difficult to endure. We are glad that they were able to contain the fire to that barn. We look forward to reading your articles each week. We are lovers of barns, animals of love of all things rural. Our neighbors suffered a bank barn fire many years ago due to arson. We remember that so vividly. So terrifying. Our hearts go out to you and your family. God bless.

  4. Gail Phares says:

    So sorry for your loss! Prayers to you and your family.

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