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Blaze destroys barn

July 28, 1999|By DON AINES

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Several thousand bales of hay went up in flames Tuesday afternoon, virtually melting a huge aluminum barn at the Hissong Farmstead at 6841 Buchanan Trail West.

"It appears to have started in the back of the barn. It's just a guess, but it may have started by spontaneous combustion," said Ivan Hissong, a partner in the farm, one of the largest dairy operations in Franklin County.

The fire in the 300-by-50-foot structure was reported at 2:30 p.m. "It was fully engulfed within 10 minutes," Hissong said.

The fire reduced the building to its steel frame and a pile of burning and smoldering hay nearly the length of a football field. A few partially melted sheets of aluminum roofing hung from the frame as firefighters poured water onto the fire from a ladder truck and handheld hoses.

"We're trying to protect these buildings now," Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters and Warren Fire Chief Nick Barbuzanes said about the nearby heifer and calf barns.

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Hissong said he and others evacuated 120 heifers from the nearest building, another open-sided aluminum barn. A plastic curtain facing the burning barn that ran the length of the building showed signs of heat damage.

"They're taking a beating in there. There's a lot of heat," said Barbuzanes about the firefighters working to contain the fire. In addition to 90-degree temperatures, he estimated the heat of the fire at more than 1,000 degrees.

At about 3:30 p.m. Barbuzanes said three firefighters had been treated at the scene for heat exhaustion, smoke or minor burns. An hour later he ordered two more sent to the hospital to be treated for heat exhaustion.

Tankers from fire companies in Greencastle, St. Thomas, Marion and Shippensburg, Pa., Clear Spring and Leitersburg, Md., were among those filing in and out of the farm to fill two 2,100-gallon collapsible tanks. From them the water was drawn by pumper trucks to provide pressure for the firefighters operating the hoses.

According to the 911 center dispatcher, some units began leaving the scene around 10:30 p.m.

Barbuzanes said the water was being drawn from a nearby pond, but there were times when the tanks went dry waiting for the next tankers to arrive. He said the fire would take hours to put out.

Hissong said a tractor and bale chopper, a machine that processes the round and square bales before they are fed to the cattle, were destroyed in the fire. Another tractor was saved, he said.

His father, Dennis, was nearby operating a front-end loader, using it to spread out some of the burning hay so that it could be more easily hosed down.

Tuesday's fire was the second barn fire in less than a week. On Wednesday a fire started by tractor exhaust destroyed the barn of Dale Burkholder on McDowell Road in Peters Township.

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