Barn fire kills Ohio dairy herd

SALEM, Ohio – “This is just a dairymen’s worst nightmare, to wake up in the middle of the night and see your cows burning.”
Dave Klingensmith finished milking a little after midnight June 24 at his Trumbull County farm, cleaned up and came inside at 1 a.m. An hour and a half later, he awoke to his daughter’s screams that the barn was burning.
Klingensmith was the first one outside. He raced to the west end of the barn, hoping to save his milking herd. But the fire had been raging too long.
“It’s a metal barn with an insulated ceiling. The insulation was burning and dripping down on all of the cows. You can’t imagine what the cows were going through.”
He ran to the other end, but bold flames blocked his path.
The barn was a tie-stall. The cows were all tethered, unable to escape on their own.
“It was a massive torture chamber.”
Fifty-one cows burned in the barn. Four broke their chains and escaped, but three of those were seared so badly that they soon died. The fourth one was injured, but Klingensmith thinks she’ll make it. Seven dry cows and about 60 head of young stock were safe in other barns that did not burn.
The tie-stall barn was destroyed, the feed room is ashes, the adjoining silos are shot, and another nearby barn holding 500 large square bales was incinerated. The skid loader, TMR mixer, new feeding cart and New Holland feed grinder are ruined.
“A lifetime of work gone in a couple hours.”
A realization. It wasn’t until about a half-hour after Klingensmith first bolted toward the flames that he realized the doors in the tie-stall barn were open when he arrived.
“We always shut those,” he remembered. His next thought was that someone else was in that barn after him, someone who had no business being there.
“There’s no question in my mind,” he said. “I know it was arson because those doors were open.”
As of press time, the fire’s cause was not determined, however foul play is not ruled out, said Ken Schick, Warren Township fire chief.
Schick said another fire was reported the same night at a nearby barn; the grass outside had been set on fire but no other damage was done.
Klingensmith said more “pieces of evidence” have been found that indicate arson, but he could not comment because it is still being investigated.
Links? The Klingensmith farm is located less than a half-mile from the location of another recent devastating fire.
Wade Bascom and Mickey and Barbara Clifford’s horse stables, also located in Leavittsburg, burned May 17. That blaze killed eight horses and one donkey and demolished the barn and arena.
Schick said the cause of the fire was ruled “undetermined.”
He said the investigation is ongoing to see whether that fire and the Klingensmith fire are linked.
The small things. It’s bad enough the fire happened, but to think someone did it on purpose, is one of the hardest things to grasp, Klingensmith said.
“It was almost like the guy was waiting around the corner,” he said. “It was like he knew my schedule and was all ready to go when I went inside.”
This was more than just another farm, Klingensmith said. His great-grandfather bought it in 1872 and milked Guernseys. In 1979, Klingensmith began transitioning to Holsteins.
At the time of the fire, the herd was in the top 5 percent of Ohio for production, he said. The family also showed their cows at the district show.
In a small stroke of luck, two of his Excellent-rated cows were in the dry cow barn and survived.
But that’s not much comfort to Klingensmith, who said four of the cows that died in the fire were not his own.
One belonged to a 4-H’er who wanted to take a milk cow to the county fair for her last year in 4-H. Her family didn’t have a facility equipped for a milking cow, so Klingensmith was taking care of it for her.
The other three belonged to individuals who’d only needed Klingensmith’s help milking their cows for a short time.
And one other heart-breaking loss was a cow due to calve just three days after the fire. That would have been Klingensmith’s first bull contract.
What’s left? As for the future, it’s too soon to tell.
Klingensmith has insurance, but as of press time, he hadn’t heard from the claims adjuster.
“We’re pretty much debt free,” he said. “If we have to take $80,000 to borrow…
“I don’t know if I feel like going back in debt again.”
The community, however, has already stepped in to help. Calls come from people who want to give him cows and hay. Calls come from people who want to lend a hand. Calls come from people who just want to say they’re sorry. And these calls help get the family through the day.
Even though the hardest part, pulling the cows’ indistinguishable remains from their stalls, is over, tough moments await the family.
Particularly the registration papers that need filled out for the young stock. Klingensmith can’t imagine having to write the dams’ names, knowing with each one that she is gone.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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