Farm fires: when the unthinkable happens
BY MIKE SEFFRIN
Farmers have many things to worry about: the weather, crops, livestock, fertilizer prices, equipment maintenance and purchases, when to plant and harvest. But some have had to deal with yet another worry — fire.
Fires destroy buildings and equipment and kill livestock, and even in if they
don’t spread to a farmer’s house and threaten the family, they can have a devastating impact on farm operations.
According to the Fire Prevention Bureau of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, fires damaged or destroyed 545 barns in the state last year, causing nearly $11 million in losses, nine civilian injuries and 12 firefighter injuries.
Dairy farmer Ken Pleiman, of the Fort Loramie area in Shelby County, knows
what a fire can do to a farming operation. In January 2009, he lost two barns, livestock and equipment in a blaze.
He didn’t have time to contemplate his losses, however. There were cows to milk.
“We just loaded up our heifers and took them to other farms,” said Pleiman, who was helped by friends and neighbors. “We built the new barn and got them back in there.”
Some of the surviving cows are still feeling the effects of the fire several years later. Pleiman said a few heifers suffered lung damage from the smoke.
“They’re still not doing very good,” he said. “It kind of stunted their growth.”
Pleiman milks about 75 to 80 head of cattle. His herd totals 160, with heifers and small calves.
The fire struck on a foggy night while Pleiman was sleeping. It was so foggy that the blaze apparently had a good start before anyone saw it.
“It (barn) was burned down when people found it,” Pleiman said. “There was absolutely nothing left.”
Pleiman milks twice a day, so there was no time to waste in getting his operation back under way.
“You’ve got to start cleaning up right away,” he said.
Pleiman observed the situation was worse because it was winter. Warmer weather would have made things easier.
Pleiman had some experience with farm fires. A fire occurred on his uncle’s farm a few years earlier.“He lost he his big barn, too,” Pleiman said.
He helped his uncle after that fire, and also his wife’s nephew, after a separate fire. So, when Pleiman suffered his loss, he didn’t lack for assistance.
“We had plenty of help,” he said.
Like other farmers who have suffered fire losses before and since, Pleiman realized that work still needed to be done despite the tragedy.
“You don’t think much about it,” he said, “you just jump in and do it.”
Pleiman said investigators believe his fire began in a skid loader with an electrical problem.
As for concern about the possibility of future fires, Pleiman said, “There’s not really much you can do. You just have to hope it doesn’t happen again.”
Mike Seffrin is a reporter for the
Sidney Daily News.