Barn Fire!

Let's Talk Rusty Iron: A barn fire is what every rural dweller fears


| August 2000



Evidence of what a hot fire can do to tires and red, shiny paint

Evidence of what a hot fire can do to tires and red, shiny paint: the author's McCormick-Deering W4.

About 4:30 Saturday morning on April 29, I was awakened by the cry that every rural dweller fears: "The barn's on fire!" 

Sure enough, when I looked out, the whole back end of my pole barn was ablaze. While on his way to work, a kind passerby spotted the barn fire from the highway and beat on the door to wake us up. The phone wire to the barn had already burned, putting the house phone out of order. Luckily, the man had a cell phone, and called the fire department. He also had the presence of mind to get the keys and move my truck away from the barn, or it would have been severely damaged. We're very grateful to this man, without whose help the destruction would have been much worse.

I got dressed and went outside, where a lot of spectators had gathered, despite the early hour.

Everyone was talking excitedly about where and when they'd seen the barn fire, and the large glow in the sky caused by the blaze. As there wasn't much I could do, I stood silently, watching the fire and listening to the talk around me.

The local volunteer fire department was there in about 15 minutes, but there wasn't much they could do either, except squirt water on the travel trailer (which was parked about 30 feet away) and the other pole barn (about 25 feet away) to keep them from burning. Even with their efforts, some of the siding and plastic parts on the camper were damaged. My John Deere lawn tractor was parked in front of the barn and a fireman pulled it back, but most of the plastic parts on it were melted as well. There were nine tractors inside the barn, and each is a total loss; just so much twisted metal. Talk about Rusty Iron! Of course, all my shop and hand tools were destroyed, plus many scarce parts and repair manuals that I had accumulated.

We don't know what caused the fire. Due to some surgery, I hadn't worked in the barn for about six weeks. The only thing we can figure is that it was electrical, although a short in the wiring should have popped the circuit breaker. The only other option is arson, and I doubt that. All we know for sure is that it started at the rear end of the building, where a refrigerator was located, as well as a John Deere MI (my show plowing tractor). The MI had a good battery in it, so it would be ready to go anytime. Mice have a habit of building their soft little nests up behind the dash of the tractor. They also love to chew the insulation off electrical wires. If that happened, and the wires shorted out near the nest, it wouldn't take much sparking to start the nest material burning. I guess we'll never know for sure. From now on, I'll be sure to shut off all the power at the main panel before leaving the building, and I'll disconnect all the batteries on my tractors while in the barn.