A Night to Remember: Straw Pile Fire

A straw pile fire sparked by a lightning strike threatens a farm family's barn.

| October 2016

Not unlike the start of a dime store novel, it really was a dark and stormy night. Threshing was just over and three mountainous straw piles were behind the big barn. The grain harvest was bountiful that year, during the late 1930s.

We could not sleep because of the lightning and thunder. Suddenly, an extra loud boom rattled the house. Shortly, we heard a furious honking coming from the driveway. My aunt Stell stuck her head out the window and shouted, “What is it?” A loud voice yelled back, “Your straw pile is on fire!”

It was Rasche, the new butcher in our little town of Capron, Illinois. At the time, he was single and returning from a night of celebration in the big city of Harvard, with a population then of about 5,000. Later, he reported seeing a lightning bolt strike one of the straw piles as he drove across the flats (what we called the prairie to the east).

Barn threatened by blaze

I got up and looked outside. The barn was juxtaposed against an eerie red glow. My uncles Amos and Everett were already getting buckets of water from the big stock tank. They futilely tossed the water at the growing inferno.

If it had just been a straw pile, they would have let it burn, but sparks were blowing toward the barn. Someone said to call the Capron Fire Department. It was a volunteer group and another uncle, Jerome, was the fire chief.

Illuminated by lightning, a surprising sight unfolded outside of a kitchen window. My older sister, Allene, was leading the draft horses to the small pasture in the orchard. She was going to make sure no horses were in the barn if it burned. This would have been a dangerous job for a man, let alone a teenage girl. Horses can be unpredictable in a storm, especially if there is a fire nearby.