FREMONT — A fully involved barn fire that broke out before 7:30 a.m. July 9 at Wild Winds Buffalo Farm on Ray Road took at least 22 area fire departments from all over northeast Indiana, southwest Michigan and northwest Ohio to battle.
Wild Winds Buffalo Preserves Property Manager Danny King said the barn was largely a storage facility that contained around 700 round bales of hay, at least three tractors and the farm’s round baler.
He said he woke up at home, not far from the farm, around 4:30 a.m. and couldn’t sleep but wasn’t sure why. He was up watching the news when he got a call from Bill “Three Paws” Elias, the tour director at the farm, about the fire. He looked outside, saw the smoke plume and headed for the property.
The bison don’t typically live in structures and were not in any of the upper fields near the barn; King said they had rotated fields July 8. They were safely away from the fire.
Staff rotate the animals from field to field every three days or so to keep pastures viable.
There were two horses in the barn and they were safely evacuated. Initial scanner traffic made it sound as if Fremont Town Marshal Joe Patterson as the one who helped get the horses out of the building. Patterson did not confirm that information.
King said he doesn’t put hay up that is higher than around an 18% moisture content. The hay is checked for moisture and temperature before being put in the barns as wet, hot hay can spontaneously combust.
When King puts bales away, he said the temperature has been around 80 degrees in the bale and dropping.
“I haven’t put new hay in there in a month or so,” King said, pointing to the 200 or so round bales sitting in a field, ready to be put away.
King said he is constantly walking in the barn checking for anything that feels off when it comes to the hay, including smelling for combustion. When it’s 90 degrees outside, he said it will be considerably hotter than that in the barn.
King said he’s not sure if the fire started because of hay or an electrical issue.
“We lost all the tractors, the baler and lots of hay for the winter feed,” he said.
The farm needs at least 1,000 round bales to feed bison all winter when grasses become scarce in the fields.
King said there could have been a few barn cats still inside, but he cannot confirm yes or no to that.
A bison calf that had been in the barn was released back to the herd just days ago.
From Indiana, departments called included Fremont, Auburn, Ashley, Hudson, Hamilton, Orland, Steuben Township, Salem Center, Metz, Kendallville, Stroh, Topeka, Albion, Howe and LaGrange. Michigan departments called included Quincy, Lakeland, Camden and Reading. Northwest Township and Edon from Ohio were also called.
Tankers from many of the departments were shuttling water from town and the Fish Lake Public Access for use on the fire.
Also responding were Steuben County EMS, Fremont Police Department, Indiana State Police, Steuben County Sheriff’s Department, Steuben County Emergency Management and Steuben County REMC.
No cause for the fire has been determined.
The Fremont Fire Department responded back the evening of July 9 to the fire as it had rekindled. Fire Chief Eric Hufnagle said they took a front-end loader borrowed from the town of Fremont out to the barn to help move rubble around to get the hot spots.
The department spent about an hour at the rekindle, Hufnagle said. The fire still smoldered the next day.
Water supply for the fire was on Hufnagle’s mind throughout the day July 9, as he didn’t want to tax the town’s municipal supply too badly.
The department’s ladder truck was positioned in one of the fields, spraying water over the fire as fast as tankers could get reservoirs filled for it.
“I know we had more than 300,000 gallons of water just off our aerial,” he said. “No idea how much else went though the hand lines.”
Hufnagle said property owner Dr. John Trippy of Bryan, Ohio, said the building was insured.