VALLEY CITY, Ohio — A Medina County farmer is trying to rebuild his fleet of planting and harvesting equipment after a major fire destroyed his inventory — just months before the start of the new growing season.
Jeff Miller, who does custom farming across north central Ohio — awoke to his worst nightmare the night of Feb. 13.
At 1 a.m., he was called by a neighbor who believed the farm shop was on fire. It turned out the fire was in the machinery shed behind the shop — where dozens of pieces of large John Deere equipment were kept.
Everything in the shed was destroyed — including three newer combines, a dozen tractors, planters, sprayers and grain heads. He estimates the damage at upward of $7.5 million.
”When I came around the corner, (the fire) was already coming out the big doors on the end and the roof was already starting to come down,” he said.
The focus quickly turned to protecting the other buildings, including the farm shop — which became a warming spot for firemen and rescue personnel.
More than 30 firefighters from a half-dozen area departments responded, according to Jack Petrone, chief of the Valley City-Liverpool Township Fire Department.
Petrone said the fire is under the investigation of the Ohio Fire Marshal’s office, and that the cause will be hard to determine, because of the sheer size of the fire.
He said it was the largest and most costly fire the area has seen in decades. Although there were no injuries, responders had to brave single-digit temperatures, and subzero wind chills.
Petrone said there were at least a couple-hundred rubber tires that burned, in addition to 2,000-plus gallons of diesel fuel in the tanks of the tractors and combines.
Miller said nothing appears salvageable — and that it will most likely end up as scrap metal.
“It took everything,” he said.
Miller has been spending the past few days working with his local John Deere dealers, to order new equipment. Fortunately, the burned equipment was insured.
He farms more than 7,000 acres — which includes the ground of his customers — and he doesn’t intend to miss a beat.
“When you’ve got customers, you’ve got to do it in time,” he said.
His most sentimental loss was a John Deere 4020 that he had farmed with for more than 30 years. The newer tractors were worth more money — but the old one held a lot of memories.
He has a major task ahead. But friends and neighbors have been supportive — and his equipment and seed dealers have been working with him from the first day.
“It’s going to be a lot to get through — that’s for sure,” Miller said. “Just the cleanup and replacing everything.”
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