SALEM, Ohio – Three months ago, tormented by the thought of his dairy herd burning in their tiestalls, Dave Klingensmith wasn’t sure if he’d ever milk a cow again.
Now he’s sure.
Haunting memories. The fire that June night in Trumbull County killed 51 cows. Most died in their stanchions. A few others broke their chains and escaped, but it was already too late for them.
Two barns, the feed room, a corn silo, 500 large hay bales, the skid loader, the new feeding cart, the feed grinder, all were also destroyed.
Days later he was still too haunted by the memories to think ahead.
But what disturbed him even more was that he distinctly remembered closing the barn doors after he came in at 1 a.m. from milking. When he ran outside and into the fire at 2:30 a.m., those doors were open.
Somebody came in here and did this on purpose, he thought.
It wasn’t until late last month, however, that Trumbull County fire investigators confirmed it was arson.
There are a couple “people of interest,” said investigator Matt Balut, but no one has been arrested.
Klingensmith, however, is already looking forward to it. He’s anticipating the sentencing, sitting before a judge and describing what he previously called “a massive torture chamber.”
Another fire at Wade Bascom and Barbara Clifford’s nearby horse farm is still ruled undetermined, Balut said. About eight other fires this summer in the same part of Warren Township have not been linked to these cases, he said.
Not so sure. At first, Klingensmith didn’t know about farming again. Seven dry cows and about 60 heifers and calves were in another barn at the time of the fire and survived, but it would take a lot of rebuilding and a lot of money to get back to full-time farming.
Plus, he said he was pretty much debt-free and borrowing thousands of dollars didn’t sound appealing.
But as time went by, with the help of family, friends and even strangers, starting over didn’t seem as daunting.
Fellow dairymen loaned him a cow here and there, so that now he’s milking five of his own cows that freshened since the fire and 16 cows belonging to other farmers.
He expects 12 more heifers to freshen in the next few months, and as soon as his new barn is completed, he plans to buy 15-20 more.
Help, hardship. In the meantime, there’s been plenty of work to do.
The corn silo was pulled down because of heat damage and a new grain bin is going up. A new hay barn was built and farmers brought in hay and forage to replace what he lost.
Four-H’ers made a cheese basket and sold it at the Trumbull County Fair in his name, raising $6,000 from the community.
His brother Chuck, sister-in-law Sonia, and her family bought Klingensmith motion detectors and alarms and set them up around the farm.
Strangers sent $50 in the mail.
There have been rough moments, too.
One cow that had snapped its chain and escaped during the fire, had survived. She was injured but Klingensmith thought she’d make it.
As the days went by, though, he realized her black hide was just hiding how badly she was burnt and her suffering became worse.
Two and a half weeks after the fire, he had to put her down.
Best option. Before the fire, Klingensmith had been thinking he’d sell his herd, which was known for its genetics and high milk production, in a few years. He’d live off the money in his retirement while he turned into a small hay operation.
But the insurance money for his cows wasn’t enough to continue with this plan, he said.
“I couldn’t afford not to milk again, basically,” he said. “We’re a small operation, a couple hundred acres. Our best option is still to milk cows.”
“In some ways, I didn’t want to go out of business that way anyway,” he said. “We’re just not going to let somebody take us out of business.”
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Barn fire kills Ohio dairy herd