SALEM, Ohio – Three early morning fires Oct. 24 claimed a bank barn, an abandoned farm market and a refrigerated produce truck in Stark County, Ohio.
All three fires were within 10 miles of one another. The barn fire is still under investigation; the farm market and truck fires have been ruled arson.
In flames. A century-old bank barn on Middlebranch Avenue owned by Charlie Swartz was the first fire reported, around 3:05 a.m., according to Hartville Fire Chief Richard Kamerer.
Swartz said his wife woke up and saw flames at one end of the barn. By the time Swartz got outside, the entire barn was engulfed, he said.
“We had hard west winds, not south to north. The wind wasn’t in the direction for that fire to spread by itself that fast,” he said.
Kamerer said firefighters could see the glow of the fire from the station, just more than a mile away. The first trucks on the scene pulled up just in time to watch the roof fall in, Kamerer said.
Losses. The bank barn, built around 1840 and one of the first in Lake Township, was a total loss.
Also lost in the fire were the barn’s contents, including about 1,000 bales of straw, 45 round bales of hay, two flatbed wagons, a generator, and a pony wagon Swartz had built.
“We’d cut the poplar tree ourselves, and finished the wagon in February or March. We hadn’t even had it out of the barn yet,” Swartz said.
The real heartbreaker for the Swartzes was the numerous small motors, tools and family antiques lost in the blaze.
“We had old farm equipment in there that went back generations. It was special to us.”
Other fires. Marlboro Township Fire Chief Gary Haines responded to the Swartz fire with an engine and two tankers.
Around 5 a.m., when his trucks were coming home, they were diverted to the farm stand fire on Swamp Street just outside Hartville. Eleven minutes later, more trucks were sent to another fire at the K.W. Zellers produce farm off Duquette Avenue, Haines said.
Haines said the farm stand, currently used for storage, was a complete loss, as was the refrigerated produce truck at the Zellers farm.
“The back doors were burned, the aluminum siding was melted,” Haines said of the truck. “We’re listing both [fires] as arson.”
In addition, when firefighters arrived on the Zellers farm, they found a smoldering rag stuffed into the gas tank of a car 20 feet from the burning trailer. That car was saved, Haines said.
Suspicion. Haines said a passerby reported a suspicious car at the farm market just before the blaze erupted. When the passerby stopped to offer assistance, the car sped off, Haines said.
Haines said 44 firefighters responded to the farm market and produce truck blazes, including mutual aid from Lexington Township, Hartville, Randolph, Suffield and Atwater stations.
Kamerer said the Swartz fire is under investigation, and couldn’t specifically link it to the other fires.
Swartz, on the other hand, thinks somebody out there knows something about his fire.
“I was coming out of the house, and a car flew past here south prit’ near as fast as he could go. I wish I had my glasses on so I could have identified it,” he said.
Kamerer said 63 firefighters responded to the blaze, including mutual aid from Marlboro, Greentown, Uniontown, Nimishillen, Randolph, Atwater, Plain and Suffield stations.
Anyone with information about any of the fires can call Richard Kamerer at 330-877-2478 or Gary Haines at 330-935-2424.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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