Saturday, December 18, 2010


Every farmers nightmare.

At 6:45 am this morning, I heard screaming downstairs in my house.

A woman was yelling "Janis the barn is on fire!"

This woman had driven over to help a friend and saw the barn on fire and came running into my house. 

I jumped out of bed, dressed fast, ran out of the house, jumped into my truck and flew down the icey road.  The sun wasn't quite up yet and it was barely 4 degrees.

THANKFULLY, I live just 1/2 mile away from my beloved cows.

As I came around the first sharp turn in the road, my heart stopped beating....

This is what you do NOT want to see, ever, in your life:

All the fire trucks were taking up the entire length of the driveway, so I slid down the rest of the road to count heads and make sure all cows and calves were accounted for.  

Rest assured, they were.   No one burnt, no one injured, so far.

Amazingly, they were bunched together.   All out in the lower field, most chewing their cud and watching the fire.

None of the usual animosities were present.

It was the First time I had actually seen the 2 black monster cows " Mean and Meaner"  AWAY from the hay rack. 

 As I stood with the cows, listening to the crackling of the fire, I felt helpless.
I did count my blessings....and my cows one more time.

The fire department was trying to keep the fire away from the garage, the house and the other barn.  Luckily, there was NO wind this morning.  A rare thing.   That is what really saved us.

You have all seen the photos of the barn on this blog. Its big. Its fairly new.
And every possible piece of farm equipment was inside it, including a wonderful tractor with the forklifts to pick up the rolled bales of hay and deliver them to the herd.   Bush hog, all the hand tools, miles of zip fencing, dozens of fiberglass posts, electric net fencing, seeders, irrigation pipes, hog feeders, canoes, frost free water pumps, water hoses to reach the water tubs, 20 years of agricultural supplies and all the stuff you need on a farm seasonally and for the important day to day functions.

The barn was already fully engulfed when the electricity went off in the farm house and the farm owner saw a flash of light outside. He opened his front door and this is what he saw:

The fire department let it burn for an hour and then left to go on another call.
They have had 3 fires in 12 hours.

It was obvious that we needed 3 things pretty quick.
Electricity for the fence charger, water for the cows and fencing to keep the herd in the field.
Farmer Chip and I immediately started re-fencing the area, since most of the zip fencing had melted.  All his fencing supplies were destroyed in the still smoldering barn.

We scavenged fencing and posts from another frozen field and set the posts close to the barn, since that was the only area that had warm ground for the posts to go into.

The entire village had no electricity because of this fire.  Peoples homes were getting cold. The local electrical company responded immediately and started replacing the mile of melted and downed wires as soon as the sun was up. 
Those lucky cows stayed away from that end of the field when all the heavy power lines came down during the fire.  They must of had a flock of angels watching over them.
The phone company came quickly to replace their destroyed cables since the farmer did not own a cell phone and needed to call his insurance company as well as other people, for assistance. 

We started digging to find the electrical wire that ran under the driveway to the barn, hoping we could dig it up ( it was inside a condiut pipe )  redirect it to a safer spot and use it to plug the fence charger into.  
Its very disorienting after a fire. He thought the wire was in one area, but didn't have any familar marks on the barn to direct him.  Finally he had to go inside the smoldering barn to find the electrical box and then eyeball where the wire would be on the outside of the barn.

We ran into all kinds of complications and had to stop what we were doing.  I suggested he call the power company to request a temporary pole be placed on the cows side of the barnyard and then string his house electrical wires TO that pole so we would get power for the fence.  He used my cell phone and made the call.
It was about this time I noticed my rubber boots were malfunctioning....( melting )
I took a walk down to the cows to cool the rubber off and see how they were doing.  It made me feel good to hug my cows and know that they were safe.
Feeling their body heat helped warm my frozen fingers and calm my racing mind.

I was thankful that I did not have to transport all of them off the property and relocate them to another farm.  That has always been my disaster plan.
There are enough fields here to move them to instead.   There was massive flooding and a landslide shortly after I arrived and we moved the cows away from the flooded areas.  I haven't allowed them to venture back to the lower areas because of that incident.

As soon as the fire wasn't "as hot" the cows ambled back up to the hay rack and continued their munching and the calves had a well deserved milk break.  Good thing they live in the moment.
Good thing our hay is in the white hoop barn and the cows have easy access to go in, lay down and chew their cud tonight.

As of 3 pm we had the area re-fenced, but still have no electricity.  The cows have lots of hay, so I do not anticipate them leaving the field.
There is limited water for them, but lots of snow for them to lap for a little while.

Tomorrow brings a new day, sunlight and more help to get a water sytem and the electricity working.
The salt blocks were rescued, but the bags of loose mineral salt were lost in the fire, along with the kitten food that I was feeding the feral kitten I found under the floor boards 2 weeks ago.    I hope she escaped.

Make a plan if a disaster should hit your home or your barn.
Lots of info under "disaster preparedness" on the Internet.
Make a plan BEFORE disaster strikes.

Also, if you have a barn, take a look at this check list and fix any issues you have in your barn before its too late.

Keep your animals safe.

Most winter barn fires are caused by electrical problems.

What do I think caused this particular barn fire?

Here is my guess:

  I saw a new extension cord coming out of the barn yesterday morning.
 I was thrilled when I saw that I no longer had to spend 20 minutes, twice a day, breaking up ice in the water tub.

A little pleasure that has caused a lot of pain.

#1 Do not overload your electrical outlets.

#2 Do not park and plug in your tractor in a good barn.  Park it away from your good barns and then plug it in. I heard the firemen say that this is frequently the cause of barn fires.

It can cause a great tractor that looked like this yesterday:

To become this pile of metal today.

I hope tomorrow is a better day.


  1. I'm so sorry for your loss. You must of had an angle watching over the cows. A barn fire is my biggest fear. One of my best friends lost their dairy barn in the mid 70's, she was in the barn when it was on fire she got out safe but lost a lot of their cows. My prayers are with you.

  2. I'm new to your blog. But wanted to tell you how glad I am that your cows are all counted for and all alright. But still you have lost years and years worth of farming equipment. I hope everything comes together and you get the fencing all figured out.

  3. I don't know what to say other than I'm so sorry. What a disaster the week before Christmas. Thank God no one was hurt and all animals are safe. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  4. Sorry to hear about the barn and everything that was lost. So glad the cows and everyone are alright.

  5. I am so, so sorry, I can't believe you were able to write all of this down and even look at the pictures. I will be praying for you.

  6. Wells River is not very far from here. I am so sorry to hear about this disaster. Thank goodness all your cows were ok. What a horrible loss. Take care and may God bless.

  7. Oh, lord, Janis!! How truly awful. And it is a nightmare for all farmers.

    Having a 150 yr old tobacco shed for a barn, fire has always been our nightmare. Like your farm, all our equipment (except the tractor and manure spreader) is stored in it.

    Most of the time, the cow stall doors are open, so they could escape, as could the barn cat. But the chickens are locked in every night.

    Fortunately it is 1/8 mile from the house, but if the woods 20' behind it caught, the house would no longer be safe.

    I am glad all the cows were ok, and hope your feral kitty turns up. And I'm glad no one was hurt in fighting the fire.

    But what heartache for the farm just before Christmas.

  8. SO sorry, Glad the peopleand cows are OK ,and you still have feed but what a tradgedy!!

  9. So glad you and all your cattle are safe! I hope enough insurance comes through, but how difficult it will be for you in the meantime. Keep us posted, and do let us know about the the fate of the little kitten.

  10. Oh! Gosh! My heavens! I'm so glad you and cows are safe. Terrifying.


  11. I'm so sorry! We had a neighbor lose theirs last year. Something on the tractor caused the fire. I'll add you to my prayer list and finish the other 2 posts on your blog.

  12. You and the farm family and all the critters are in my prayers right *now.* I pray for comfort and peace and energy to carry on. I'll go look around here more now and check back often. Good luck and Merry Christmas!

  13. Wow, fires burn quickly and it is amazing to look at the "personalities" they take on. I am really glad that your cattle were able to escape from the barn, fingers crossed for the barn cat. I had a similar thing happen on Christmas Eve morning - the RV parked in my driveway caught fire and burned hot, fast and thoroughly. I was very lucky that the wind was blowing away from my house, as the RV was about 30 feet from the back bedroom. The two fire engines that responded did a phenomenal job, foaming the wheels, tires and chassis, so the RV can still be towed away. The fiberglass burned so hot, but at least the damage was limited to the RV. I have emails from me to the owner of the RV asking if I could unplug the RV while he was away and he told me that there was a space heater set to kick on at 40 degrees, to prevent condensation. Well, there is no condensation, but between the foam, the water and now snow, condensation seems like a minimal concern.

    I hope your insurance company responds quickly and generously. I am happy to read that the electricians were available on a Sunday. People tend to pull together when the situation requires. May 2011 start out and be much better than the end of 2010.

    Redmond, WA

  14. Janis, I cried when I read this. I'm so sorry.

  15. Oh my gosh! This is my first visit to your blog and i just read about your barn fire. How devastating...thankfully no lives were lost.
    That IS my fear...a bran fire. So far i have not used any heated water buckets or anything needing to be plugged in. People say I'm crazy, that people have used these things for years but my heart tells me differently...and I have to go with my heart.