by Eric Stearley
Shortly after 10 p.m. Monday night, fire departments from around the county raced to put out the fire that destroyed a hog barn owned by Dale Farms on County Road 500 North. In total, six fire departments were deployed to the scene, battling flames that engulfed the entire building as the temperature dropped as low as -7 degrees.
“I got a call about 20 after 10 from the neighbors out here,” said Greg Dale, who was on the scene. “By the time I got here at 23 after, this building was pretty much gone already. I’m gonna guess it probably started around 10 o’clock, as fast as it went up.”
Firefighters from Urbana, Roann, Noble, Pleasant, Chester, and Liberty Townships drove tanker after tanker to the scene in an attempt to supply enough water to subdue the flames. In addition to the flames, firefighters had to battle nearly two feet of accumulated snow and frozen tanker valves.
“My valves are frozen up, so this truck is out of service,” said Noble Township’s South Station Captain Joe McKenzie, as he drove away from the scene in Tanker 53.
Two more tankers headed toward the scene passed McKenzie as he drove away just after midnight.
Firefighters fought the flames with hoses from the ground, as well as from the roof of a nearby barn. Because of the quantity of smoke, which was visible from U.S. 24, it was difficult for firefighters to see where the water being sprayed from the hoses was going. Firefighters caught in the stream continued the fight, the water freezing on their coats, pants and helmets. Even with the extreme heat of the fire radiating from the building, firefighters standing just feet from the building’s outer walls had frozen beards and moustaches.
This is the second disaster to hit the Dale Farms property in less than three months. On Nov. 17, 70 mph winds took the roof off of the property’s southernmost building and collapsed most of its walls. The storm caused a second building across the road to collapse as well, which was also owned by Dale Farms. Amazingly, both disasters destroyed buildings that were unoccupied by livestock at the time, sparing the only occupied barn. In both cases, the vacancy was a result of an ongoing roof replacement. Dales had just recently finished replacing the roof on the barn that burnt down Monday night.
“We had no pigs in anything that is on fire right now,” said Dale. “This one running [perpendicular], there are 2,000 pigs in that one right now.”
Dale said they were planning to fill the large, L-shaped barn that caught fire Monday night with 2,000 hogs on Wednesday. Urbana residents could smell the fire from town, nearly a mile and a half away. Though the cause was not known at the time of this publication, heaters were likely to blame for the fire.
“I’m gonna guess [it was] one of the heaters or something,” said Dale. “That’s my guess. I don’t know what else would have done it.”
Dale Farms utilized gas heaters in the building.
“I shut the gas off first thing when I got here, before it got back to the main,” said Dale. If it had gotten back there, it would have been major.
Aiding in the extinguishing effort was a backhoe, which tore down the outer walls of the 200-plus-foot building, giving those behind the nozzles a direct shot at the source of the flames. Other individuals, appearing to be Dale Farms associates, stood with Mr. Dale as they watched the building go up in flames.
“I wanted to get back here to see where it was,” one of the men commented. “I didn’t know this was empty, but it was gone when I got here anyway.”
By midnight, the majority of the fire was extinguished, the glowing smoke that filled the night sky vanishing into darkness once again. This was, yet again, a shining example of bravery, as volunteers left the warmth and comfort of their homes to battle wicked flames in the frigid darkness of a February night in Wabash County.