Saturday, December 19, 2009

Barn Fire

So, one of the reasons that I have been so behind on blogging is that we had a barn fire on November 2, 2009. As I look back at the date on my calendar, I ironically laugh to myself as I realize that Nov. 2nd is the "Day of the Dead," which is a holiday celebrated in Mexico. I suppose it is an appropriate day to have a fire and experience so much loss. I am uncertain where to start the story, so let me begin by saying this is what our hay barn did look like before the fire. We had put more work into this barn than any of our others since moving in 2 years ago. It had a large loft above it, where we stored our hay. On this particular day, we had 200 bales of our own beautiful 2nd cut up there. We also used the barn to house our herdsire Smokey, our 20 or so chickens and we stored misc. farm supplies like water buckets and tools in the barn. We also occasionally put our dogs in the dog run or our female alpacas in the barn when their barn got too soggy.

I suppose I will begin the story at the beginning. On November 2nd, I was feeling particularly inspired by a blog my cousin wrote about running and preparing for a marathon. It got me motivated and when I got home, I asked Noah if he wanted to go running. Noah ran track back in high school and has been wanting to get back into running, so of course he agreed. We put on our running shoes, put Lola in her crate and brought our older dane Roz with us running. We ran on a dirt road near our house, where we usually walk the dogs. It is a very peaceful road with only one house on it and winds through the woods and fields. We got about 2 miles from home and turned around to go back. As we turned around, we noticed black smoke in the air coming from the direction of our farm. As their are not really any houses around us, we were immediately alarmed. Neither of us had brought our cell phones and didn't have a clear view of where the smoke was coming from. Noah jogged ahead and got a clearer shot across a corn field. I will never forget the words he said or how he said them; I feel as though that moment will be ingrained in my head forever. I heard him say, "Oh my God the house!" and he left Roz with me and took off sprinting. I don't think I have ever experienced so much shock, pain, fear, and helplessness in my life. I had no idea what to do and my brain felt like mush. I just started running with Roz. It felt like the longest moments of my life running down that road. Somehow I kept up with Roz. I was just crying and screaming hysterically "Oh my God, what do I do?" The fear and helplessness were taking over. I could see the flames high in the air surrounded by black smoke! All I could think of was Lola burning to death in her crate and of all my pictures (a week earlier, I had brought 20 or so albums of my childhood pictures from my mom's house to scan into the computer, so they wouldn't be lost). It is so strange what is really important to us when we think we have lost everything! I didn't care about the house or anything in it. All I could think of was Lola and my pictures...the two things that I could never replace! Then a new fear settled in; Noah was much faster than I was and I began to worry that he would run into the burning house to save Lola and he would be hurt or killed himself, in the chaos! I continued to run and cry and pray out loud, "dear God, where are the sirens!" It wasn't until I had made it to the end of the dirt road that I started seeing sirens going by. Although the run down the road felt endless, I looked up and realized I had run the whole thing in a blur and a car was pulling up to me. There was a young couple in the front seat and the man rolled down his window and said...."IT"S NOT YOUR HOUSE! IT'S THE HAY BARN!" I cannot tell you what it felt like to hear those words! Waves of relief washed over me. I cried tears of happiness and joy. Although I was sad to lose our barn and hay, I was immensely relieved to learn that Lola and our home were okay! I feel like there are not even words to describe the fear and then happiness I felt. The young couple offered Roz and I a ride the rest of the way home. I later learned, that Noah had flagged down this couple and they had driven him home and let him use their cell phone to call 911 (who told him, the fire had already been called in). Noah asked the couple to go back and pick his wife up and to tell me that it was not the house, but the barn on fire. I struggled to get Roz in the back seat of their small car. She was obviously upset and scared at my hysterical behavior. The couple dropped us off and I ran up the driveway as fire trucks began to pull up. When I arrived, the hay barn was completely engulfed in flames, but was still standing. The fire fighters were getting their hoses ready and Noah cut the power to the barns and some good Samaritans were hosing down our other two barns with our garden hose from the garage. The flames were getting severely close to the other barns and I was terrified the other barns would catch fire. I put Roz in the house, and ran out to check on the alpacas. The whole herd was huddled together out in the pasture, the furthest they could get from the flames and smoke. Smokey's pasture was half demolished from the fire, but he stood in the far corner of his pasture, far from the flames. After a few minutes the barn fell down and the firefighters started putting the flames out. I stopped crying and calmed down a little and called my parents to let them know what was going on. I also got my camera out snapped a few pictures (for the blog of course). It was already dark, so there weren't many good shots.

The two good Samaritans stopped to talk with us before they left. They said they were driving by and say the flames and thought the fire looked a little big to be purposeful and noticed no one was outside. They called 911, let what chickens were left out of the barn/pen, and started hosing down our other barns. I am so thankful to these two men, but was so flustered at the time, I didn't think to ask who they were or where they were from. I wish I knew so I could thank them properly. So, THANK YOU for everything! A half dozen fire engines showed up from the Grant Fire Department and the Newaygo Fire Department. Although the barn and everything in it is a complete loss, I am thankful to the firefighter who helped to put the fire out and save our other barns from catching fire. The fire chief even stopped to play with Roz and Lola before he left as he has great danes of his own. Here is what the barn looked like the next day.

Although it is possible for hay to spontaneously combust if it is stored when it is wet or damp, the fire fighters believe this fire was electrical. The barn was old and had old electrical running through it. It looked as though the fire started below the loft as much of the hay above was not completely burned and now is just a huge heaping mess in the yard. Of course it is all ruined though because of the smoke, water, and chemicals put on the fire. After the firefighters put the flames out, the heap continued to smoke. They put a foam over it to try and suffocate the embers. They told us to watch the heap and as soon as the foam wears off, put a sprinkler on it to keep it damp. They told us to watch for flames and call them back if it flared up again. Of course, with these instructions, I could not sleep the rest of the night.
After the fire fighter's left, Noah and I caught Smokey and put him in another pasture for the night. I looked around for the chickens, as I thought they had all escaped and survived. We decided we would look more and do some clean up and rearranging in the morning as it had been a physically draining and emotional night. Of course, I didn't get much sleep for the before mentioned reason.

You can see in these pictures the water pump sticking up above the piles of rubble. It of course no longer works. Luckily Noah is handy and put one in our larger barn so we could use it this winter.
The next day, I realized we had lost 11 chickens in the fire and the surviving chickens were singed black here and there, but otherwise were okay. We put up panels to close off the catch pen as it was destroyed in the fire. We also put panels up to make a stall in the girls barn for Smokey; he doesn't seem to mind at all being closer to his ladies!

Noah took a pitch fork and went through the smoking heap and tried to put out the hot spots with the hose. In doing so, he found a few of our chickens. It was very sad; they looked like cooked rotisserie chickens. The heap continued to smolder and smoke for 4 days after the fire. We had the sprinkler running on it for days.

The barn, chickens, and hay were such a loss, but can all be replaced and pales in comparison to my fears of the house and Lola burning. I am also so thankful that all the alpacas are okay! We are so thankful to everyone for their support! We had an outpouring of thoughts, prayers, phone calls, emails, and people stopping by to offer help and support. Apparently word travels very quickly in a small town and local farmers, neighbors, other alpaca farms and even the vets office had heard and offered the support and condolences within a day. In addition to prayers, people offered hay, and storage space in their barns, and a temporary home for the alpacas if we needed it. Thank you to those who adopted our burn victim chickens as they were now homeless. Thank you to everyone for your support! We are so blessed to have you in our lives!
I hope this tree survives as it is one of my favorites! We will see how it looks next spring. We have been working with our insurance company and luckily had our barns insured. We plan to clean up and rebuild by next spring. Although we didn't have time to clean up the mess before the snow hit, Noah did install the water pump and ran electrical out the girls barn so we were set for winter. We look forward to starting over in the spring!

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