UNION CITY, Pa. — As pork chops were just finishing up and homemade noodles sat warming in a pan on the stove, and a Jersey calf needing constant nursing laid in a dog crate in the kitchen corner, an unwelcome danger raged in the top of the Isiminger home.
Silently, the stranger roared between the walls, ceiling and chimney.
Junia had just told her oldest daughter, Jaydyn, 14, to go ahead and eat the dinner Junia had prepared. It was almost 9 p.m. and Junia’s husband, Mike, was finishing milking the 40 head of cattle and she didn’t want Jaydyn to wait. Their youngest, Jordanna, 8, was staying with Mike’s mom that Saturday night, March 1.
Fire breaks out
As Jaydyn sat down to eat, she saw something she will probably never forget. Something grabbed her attention out of the corner of her eye. She looked again, and immediately began to yell… “Fire!”
Junia flew up the stairs to find what had been an upstairs storage room engulfed in flames.
She came back down the steps and screamed for Jaydyn to get out of the house and to call 911.
Jaydyn grabbed Junia’s cell phone and attempted to call for help.
Junia grabbed the phone and pushed Jaydyn, the dogs and the family cat, Matty, out the door. She then picked up the home phone and called the fire department.
Meanwhile, Jaydyn ran to the barn and got her dad. She started pulling off the milkers, as he took off out of the barn.
Get the calf!
As Junia finished up with the dispatcher, she realized that Jordanna’s Jersey calf was still in the kitchen.
So as Mike ran past her to see what could be done, Junia ran inside to grab the calf, Beauty.
Mike and Junia realized that a couple of buckets of water weren’t going to douse the flames, and left the house.
“We were thankful that if it had to happen, that it happened on a Saturday. Otherwise, we would have been asleep at the time and it could have ended in a much different outcome,” said Junia.
“God was truly watching over us and protecting us.”
Jaydyn ran the calf to the barn where it would be safe as the family waited for the sirens and lights to arrive at the scene.
The blaze took eight fire companies to fight and destroyed the 200-year-old farm house.
The fire was ruled accidental as it appears to have started in the bathroom wall near the chimney.
The Isimingers heat with a wood furnace and it appears the chimney got hot and ignited the wood around it, and the fire spread.
The Isimingers believe the fire started six feet up from the first floor and spread up through the wall, breaking through into the second floor and spread through the ceiling in both directions until it reached the outside walls.
Although the flames didn’t rip through the entire home, between fire, smoke and water damage, the house and contents were considered a total loss. The Isimingers hope to rebuild on the existing infrastructure.
“When you have a fire like this, it’s funny how things that you think will matter, just don’t,” said Junia.
Farm chores first
Mike suffered from smoke inhalation, but before he would accept treatment at a hospital, he went out to haul a load of manure he had loaded because he knew with the below-freezing temperatures, the manure would freeze in the manure spreader and it would cause a bigger headache in the long run.
He said no matter what, the cattle had to be taken care of.
“The work or their care doesn’t stop. It goes on. There are 40 cattle that need fed, watered and milked,” said Mike.
The good thing for the Isiminger family is that the community — especially the agriculture, church and local community — came together to ensure the family was taken care of during their time of need.
Stay on the farm
Although the Red Cross offered to put the family up for three days in a hotel, the family knew they wanted to stay on the farm to take care of their cattle.
“As awful as it is and was, it could have been so much worse. We needed the whole family to be together. We are stronger because of it,” said Junia.
They reached out and found a camper from a family who shows at the fair.
“By 3 p.m. the next day, we had a camper and it was hooked up to the water and electric in the barn,” said Mike.
Dairy friends from as far away as Maryland have sent them boxes of barn clothes, including coats and coveralls to ensure the family can continue their barn work.
“It’s been overwhelming, how we’ve been supported by people we don’t know,” said Junia.
Mike said one way the family has coped with the fire is by keeping the farm routines. He admits the breeding schedule is off, but the day-to-day chores have kept them grounded.
“The farming doesn’t stop. It just gets altered. The farm helps to keep us positive and moving forward,” said Mike. “The farm brings normalcy to everyday life.”
The family’s insurance has now brought in a mobile home for them while the cleanup begins and the process to rebuild begins.
Junia said as the shock wears off, the reality sets in. The farm’s records were destroyed, and everything in the farm office is considered a complete loss.
Mementos and a lot of photographs were lost either to smoke or water damage.
Junia said one of the firefighters was able to grab a couple of boxes of photographs of the children and her wedding album, but many were destroyed, as they were stored in the room that burned the worst.
“There is no sense in crying over it. What is important is my family. My kids are safe and that’s what matters,” said Junia.
Jaydyn and Jordanna said they lost a lot of things that meant a lot to them, including a severely damaged teddy bear, Jordanna calls Smokey. The bear had been Junia’s when she was young, but the children know they are lucky no matter what the material loss is.
Junia and Mike thought they would be spending their 25th wedding anniversary by taking a weekend away from the dairy farm. Instead, they will be rebuilding their home — something they know won’t be easy.