(Photos courtesy of Eric Mink)
SUNBURY, Ohio — Delaware County resident Linda Skinner has felt her emotions run rampant the past 24 hours. Now, the biggest thing she feels is anger.
Her family discovered their dairy barn on fire sometime around 6:30 a.m. Thursday morning, April 5. It was one of three barns that burned the same morning, within four miles of each other.
By the end of the day, the Ohio Division of State Fire Marshal and local law enforcement declared arson the cause of a barn fire at 15253 Woodtwon Road in Sunbury, and “probable arson” for fires at 4855 Miller-Paul Road in Westerville, and 1915 state Route 605 South in Sunbury.
All three buildings were considered a “complete loss,” with multiple losses of farm equipment, hay and straw. No animals were lost and no injuries have been reported.
Skinner’s barn is owned by her father, Shelby Garee, 92. The family moved to the farm in 1954 and has fond memories of milking dairy cows in the barn, and preparing animals for the local fair.
“What people don’t understand is that for a farmer, that barn is sometimes more important than your house,” Skinner said. “Thank God we didn’t have any animals in the barn, thank God!”
She remembers as a kid, when her brothers strung ropes in the barn and they played Tarzan. And she recalled bottle feeding calves and doing chores.
Her dad, about to turn 93, has lived in Harlem Township all his life, and he’s taking it pretty hard.
“He cried like a baby,” she said.
The Woodtown Road fire was reported at 6:08 a.m., and the Miller-Paul Road fire was reported at 6:52 a.m., according to a statement by the state fire marshal’s office.
Eric Mink, a neighbor to the Miller-Paul Road fire, said his mother awoke Thursday morning and watching news of the fires on TV. When she opened the blinds on her window she saw the neighbor’s barn smoking, as well.
The family called 9-1-1, and Eric Mink took several graphic pictures as the fire progressed.
“It was taller than the trees — the biggest fire I had ever seen before,” he said.
The Miller-Paul Road barn was constructed of heavy timber and wood. It contained farm equipment, hay and straw, according to the fire marshal’s office.
The Skinner family barn was constructed of heavy timber and wood and contained farm equipment, hay and straw. Skinner said it predated 1900, and her family was able to remove three tractors before the whole barn was destroyed.
The Woodtown Road barn was a metal pole barn, which contained personal property and was closed and secured at the time of the fire, and an entrance gate to the property was locked, according to the fire marshal’s office.
Specific details about this fire have not been released, because it’s considered an ongoing criminal investigation.
Investigators are looking at these three fires and previous barn fires in Delaware and surrounding counties for similarities or patterns. Investigations are being conducted by the Division of State Fire Marshal, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office and the Harlem Township Fire Department.
Mutual aid was provided by BST&G Fire Department, Genoa Township, Monroe Township, Plain Township, Westerville Fire, Orange Township, Porter Kingston Fire Department and Delaware County EMS.
State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers encourages concerned citizens to take some simple steps toward prevention of future incidents.
He says turn on or add exterior lighting to barns, sheds and detached buildings. Remove debris and any materials from vacant or abandoned properties.
Secure ladders, fuel and other tools so they do not become tools of a potential arsonist. Finally, immediately report any suspicious activity to the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office or your local police department.
Investigators are conducting interviews and following up on leads at this time. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Division of State Fire Marshal at 1-800-589-2728.
Update: A Blue Ribbon Arson Reward of up to $5,000 has been posted for information leading to the identification of the person or persons responsible for the fire at 15253 Woodtown Road.