Spark for conveyor belt starts fire that claims century-old barn

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 16

MILLBURY — A spark from a conveyor belt started a massive fire last night, bringing an over 100-year-old Allen Township barn to the ground.

The fire, at the farm of John Kelly, 29244 North Fostoria Rd., began about 6 p.m., when five workers using a 30-foot-long conveyor belt were loading straw into the barn. Suddenly, a spark flew off the machine and onto the ground.

“I saw it hit some loose straw and ran to unplug the machine,” said Jason Rhuland, 16, who was loading the straw. “But the fire just took off.”

Flames shot up the belt and into the barn, quickly igniting the straw inside.

“In five minutes, it went from nothing to flames a hundred feet in the air,” said Paul McLaughlin, a neighbor who watched the fire from across the street. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Thick gray smoke billowed skyward, and could be seen from miles around.

Within 10 minutes, fire trucks arrived to fight the flames. Units from 11 area departments and over 50 firefighters eventually joined the effort.

Two vehicles – a conversion van and a small pickup truck – were destroyed by the flames.

“We tried to drive away all the vehicles, but we couldn’t get those two out of the way,” Allen Township Fire Chief Dennis Hartman said. “Our first priority was to protect the two houses next door.”

Witnesses said a north wind was blowing the fire toward one house, but a wind shift to the east diverted the flames. One house sustained slight damage to its exterior from the billowing smoke, while the other was untouched.

Mr. Kelly could not estimate damages. “We’re just lucky no one was hurt,” he said.

He said the barn was probably over a century old.

The fire was under control within an hour, but firefighters said they would continue working for about five more hours.

The barn contained straw and several dozen chickens, most of which were killed.

“I see five or six walking around the front yard,” young Rhuland said. “I guess that’s what’s left.”