SALEM, Ohio – The blaze that engulfed a barn on a Myron Wehr farm near New Waterford, Ohio, Aug. 2 was sparked by a lightning strike, and not spontaneous combustion as fire officials originally suspected.
The fire destroyed the metal barn, 6,000 bales of hay and straw, a combine, two tractors and two wagons.
The farm is located at 3200 McCloskey Road.
Straw ignited. According to insurance investigators, a nearby lightning strike generated enough electrical charge to ignite the straw within the building. The material may have smoldered for at least five hours prior to becoming exposed to air and igniting.
Initially, officials thought damp straw recently baled and stored in the barn spontaneously combusted and caused the fire.
Firefighters arrived at the scene at 3:42 p.m. after being alerted by a passerby. They were immediately able to extinguish a fire in a nearby machinery shed, but the 60-by-120 foot barn was already engulfed when they arrived.
No one was at home at the time of the fire.
In addition to the New Waterford Volunteer Fire Department, firefighters from East Palestine and Columbiana responded and were on the scene for 12 hours battling the blaze.
Wehr said a burn mark on a nearby bank barn triggered investigators’ suspicion that the wet straw might not have been to blame for the fire.
Lightning. Investigators found the damage indicated an overcurrent caused by the lightning, which entered from the ground side. The neutral lead of the electrical system had been severed in two places about 10 feet apart, which is typical in lightning strikes, the insurance report said.
Investigators believe the lightning traveled into the metal building and through the damp straw stored at floor level. The current then ignited the dry straw stored next to the wet bales.
The lightning current continued through the building and zapped the electrical system, causing the damage to the neutral lead.
Wehr, who farms approximately 2,000 acres, said three people were in the barn getting hay that day, possibly after the lightning strike, and nothing looked suspicious.
“A fire is never good,” Wehr said, “but it’s comforting to know it wasn’t anything I did or anyone else did.”
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