I hesitated to write this post so soon, but I know we have family, friends, and neighbors wondering what happened and if we are okay.  Thank you for your concern and love.  We are doing just fine!  Hopefully this post answers your questions, and if you have more, you are welcome to ask. 

Yesterday when I woke up, and immediately my thoughts turned to the chicken coop.  As I climbed out of bed, my back hurt something fierce from a pinched nerve, but at least it wasn’t a headache like the one I woke up with on Tuesday morning.  There was a fire on Monday night, and now we’re left with half of a building (the chicken coop/garden shed) and one big mess.  The headache on Tuesday was from the stress of the night before, and a watershed of tears not yet spilled.  I spent the first half of Tuesday crying and feeling like a zombie, but by the middle of the day, I had started to come to terms with what had happened the night before.  Just as I was about to go to sleep that night, the darkness of the room brought forth images of the inside of the charred building and made it a bit difficult to shut my eyes.  I suspect the back pain has something to do with that, and not sleeping on it the right way.  Oddly enough, I’ve slept really hard the two nights following the fire, but it was a short sleep, and began and ended with stress.  Surely that doesn’t do my body a ton of good.

The images I was seeing at night when I’d close my eyes looked something like this.

I’m not the only one who was tired and “off” yesterday.  The kids were a bit more argumentative with one another today, and poor Scott was so worn out that he dozed off on his lunch break, and had to take a nap after getting home from work.  But we’re doing pretty good, all things considered.  Nobody was injured in the fire, the house is safe, the dog is safe, and we still have our egg laying hens out in the garden, so it’s far from a total loss.  It’s just a big setback.  A sad one, but it could have been so much worse.

On Monday night, around 7:30, a fire broke out in one of our brood boxes.  Yes, we believe the fire started with a heat lamp, but we believe there was a combination of other issues that led to the fire, and not solely the fault of a heat lamp, based on evidence that was discovered as the fire was being fought.  We had some power issues around here last week due to a thunderstorm (it knocked out 5 telephone poles, fried our well pump, and damaged our phone lines), and after there were some repairs done, there was a power surge/outage that happened minutes before we were aware of the fire that we think set off a chain reaction.  There was an improper fuse connected to the wiring that lead to the coop, and it’s likely that the power surge was not stopped by the fuse (because of the difference from wire to fuse), which in turn would have probably blown out the heat lamp.  There won’t be a formal investigation as the building was not covered by insurance, and since we know that it started in a brood box, there’s really not a need to look into it more anyway.  Peanut, our second son, noticed smoke coming from the coop and came to alert Scott.  Scott went to find the cause and discovered that there was indeed, a fire in the coop, and he could see that it had started with a brood box.  He didn’t go into the building any further because there was already quite a bit of smoke and the fire was quite hot, so he ran into the house to call the fire department.

Homesteading in Wisconsin: March
The coop, pre-fire. The left half of the building was the coop side, and the right half, the garden shed.

I was in the shower at the time the fire started, and just coming out of the shower when Scott told me what was going on.  I got dressed faster than I knew was possible and ran outside to see if there was anything that could be done.  My heart was racing because we had 200 chicks (not quite three weeks old), 4 ducklings, and 2 turkey chicks in the building, and my instinct was to get them out if at all possible.  But by the time I got to the building, smoke was already pouring out from under the door, and I  knew it would be far too unsafe for me to go into it.

The duck with the tuft of fluff on it’s head was Polka Dot. The kids never named the other ones, since they were too hard to tell apart, but the ducks were by far the family favorite.

From the time Scott called 911 until the time the fire trucks started pulling in it was probably only 10 minutes, but in that time, the building went from only visibly having smoke showing on the outside to having an entire corner of the building up in big flames.  As soon as the fire broke through the wall, it was fed a lot of oxygen and it grew really, really quickly.  The first person on the scene I believe was the fire chief (if I got my information from the night straight), since he lives very close by, and he took a couple of minutes to assess the situation and talk to his crew on the radio, giving them details while Scott also continued to give the emergency operator more information.

The wind was blowing to the north, and hard enough that it was throwing flames a good distance on occasion, but thankfully, it wasn’t steady enough or strong enough to do more damage.  The first fire fighter on the scene asked for our hose and started spraying down the granary which is directly north, and not all too far from the coop, in hopes of keeping it from lighting on fire as well.  He told us to get everyone out of the house and move to the far side of the house, near the road.  We had been under high fire danger levels just two weeks before, and only a few days prior to our fire was it dropped back down to low again, and then on the day of the fire, it was raised back up to moderate.  So we were safer than two weeks ago, but not as safe as if it would have been if it had happened just a few days earlier.

While waiting for the first truck to come, I felt completely shocked.  Was this really happening?  Would they get there in time to save at least some of the chicks?  I could hear them all panicking in the building, and I wanted nothing more than to get them out as fast as possible.  But by the time the truck arrived, I knew there was nothing we could do for them.  The fire was too big, and there was way too much smoke for any of them to still be alive.  “Still,” I thought, “the fire isn’t that big.  They won’t bring more than a few trucks.” I was proven wrong very quickly when truck after truck and fighter after fighter came racing to the scene.  The fire fighters unloaded and promptly got to work setting up hoses, clearing the perimeter, and making a plan of action.

The oldest two were so excited to see the fire trucks and fire fighters in action, that they forgot about the fear and the anxiety that they had felt prior to the trucks arriving.  I reminded them that this was not an event to get excited about, but they said “Yeah, but we’ve never seen firefighters or fire trucks in action!”  The younger three were less impressed by the suits and flashing lights.  Some time after the crew had arrived, Doodles asked me “Are the chickies going to be okay?” and when I told him “No,” he started crying.  Miss Lady asked “Yeah, but some of them will be okay, right?” and when I told her “No,” she broke down as well.  I had to run into the house to get E up when the fire fighter asked us to evacuate the house, so he was still tired at this time, and having just barely turned two, he definitely didn’t fully understand the gravity of the situation, but nonetheless, he was uneasy and didn’t like what was going on.  Poppy sat outside with us, and she was also very agitated.  I tried not to cry too hard in front of the kids, because I wanted them to understand that we were okay and that everything was going to be okay, but I was most definitely crying for a good chunk of the night, and if I wasn’t, I probably looked really out of it.

I have to agree with the boys, it was extremely interesting to watch the fire team as they did their jobs, and we had two local volunteer fire departments here.  They all knew their jobs really well, and they worked together really well.  While there was a sense of urgency about things, especially in the beginning, they always remained calm.  Scott was standing much closer to the fire, answering questions whenever necessary, and having a closer view of all that was happening, while I sat with the kids on the hill by the front porch.  We sat there for quite some time, and around what I would guess was probably about 9:30, I put the younger three back to bed after we got approval to go back into the house from the assistant fire chief.

When the fire department arrived, they immediately shut off all power to our property to ensure we didn’t have more issues as they fought the fire, and we had to call and electrician to come out and inspect some things and get the power back on to the other buildings (the house and the granary).  They also called in a high hoe excavator to remove the roof of the coop because the fire had jumped into the hay loft, and pulling the roof down and breaking up the hay was the only way to ensure that the fire was completely out.  The fire fighters cut off the east and west end walls under the gambrelled roof frame, and then cut the roof and walls apart with a chainsaw.  Once the excavator got there, they quickly started pulling the roof down and removing the hay from the loft, spreading it out.

Some of the tracks left behind from the excavator coming through the yard the night before.

In the end, everybody left around 11:30 and we were left with half a building.  The half that burned down was the chicken coop side, and the half that remains standing was the garden shed side.  It was really weird when everybody left.  Silent.  Just the crickets chirping, and some wind.  Our last words from the fire fighters were words of caution: there could still be stuff smoldering in the hay.  If we noticed more fires start in the night, we shouldn’t hesitate to call them back.  That left me feeling anxious.  I didn’t know how I’d sleep.  Would I wake up if a fire started again?  I was physically exhausted from a days worth of physical activity, and now I was emotionally drained too.  Either I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all, or I’d sleep like a rock.  I ended up sleeping like a rock for about 5 hours and woke up to Scott watching out our bedroom window.  He said he’d been up earlier in the night putting out a small fire that flared up.

He had planned to go into work early that day, and since he was already up for the day, he figured he’d just head in.  I didn’t want him to leave, but didn’t have a good reason that I could think of that I’d need him to stay.  But once he was gone for the day and the kids started waking up and wanting to go out to play, I realized that I had a problem on my hands.  My head was killing me, I was really shaken and just emotionally needed him there, I had no idea what I should do for the day, and I knew I couldn’t send the kids out to play if we didn’t have a plan of action for keeping them away from the debris.  I called him within two hours of him getting to work and asked him to come back home.

Thank goodness he came home, because I probably would have been a wreck all day long.  The first problem we needed to solve was that we needed to set up a perimeter for keeping the kids away from the building and debris.  The second problem was that we needed to have the kids not be there while we set up the perimeter, and we needed to be able to discuss our immediate plan of action, both for that day and the coming days.  So we called Scott’s parents who helped us out and watched the kids for a few hours so we could take those first steps towards healing and recovery.

We’re still left with part of the building. If we keep it, it’s going to need plenty of work… but less than what it would be to build a new building.

After we dropped the kids off at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, we took a drive into town to get a few things we’d need in the immediate future.  We needed caution tap, work gloves (ours were both worn out and in need of replacing anyway, but we’d definitely need them for clean-up), and chicken feed for the laying hens who survived.  We also picked up some really easy food to take my mind off of more time-consuming homemade meals for at least a day or two.  I practically cried all through Fleet Farm, not loud weeping or wailing, but just a silent steady stream of tears.  I started to feel just a little bit better by the time we were heading home.  The pressure that was built up in my head from held-back tears was starting to be relieved, and we had a plan for getting through the next couple of hours.

And yes, on our way home, we ordered more chicks from the mill.  They won’t be coming for over a month, so we have plenty of time to prepare something for them, and we ordered about half of what we ordered the first time.  We had both agreed that we still wanted to be raising more birds this year, and without the chickens, our meat plan for food for the year would have flown right out of the window. Not only that, but they weren’t all meat birds to begin with.  A good portion of them were to be raised for egg production, and we hadn’t been selling eggs much recently, but we were planning to get back into it on a larger scale.  I know, it probably sounds crazy to some of you, maybe most of you.  But it made us feel a little better.  Not trying again would be like giving up altogether for the year, and we were actually off to a really great start with all of our homesteading plans this year.

For the time being, our plan is to pick away at the worst of the mess just a little at a time, at least in these first few days, see how it goes and reassess from there.  We’re thinking we’ll probably fix up what remains of the building, since three out of four walls are still usable, and with the barn coming down, we certainly have materials to make this project work.  After all, it does make a great garden shed.  Honestly, though it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if the whole building had burned down, or if all of our gardening tools had burned in the fire, I’m glad they didn’t.  We were trying to make gardening our focus this year, and it was like God was telling us that he supported that.  We had wanted to move all of our chickens outdoors eventually (aside from brooding them and for winter), so this will force us to think that out more seriously, and maybe take action on a plan we had been contemplating but might not otherwise have had a reason to do this year.  There’s lots to think about, for sure!

This is the section of the coop where the ceiling is in the worst shape. Though I’m pretty sure that the damage has more to do with the excavator than it does with the fire itself, since the worst of the fire was on the other end of the building.

We’ll take it one day at a time.  It rained all day yesterday anyway, so I was forced into resting from both garden work and clean-up.  It will probably rain today, too, but I think I have a plan of action for garden work that can be done in spite of any rain, so it’s all good.  The building and mess aren’t going anywhere, and while we don’t want the debris to sit there forever, a few more days won’t hurt.  Plus, then I’m not worrying about the hay spontaneously combusting and causing us more problems.  Aside from not having gotten certain work done in April, I am so glad we had no big plans for the month of May.  We can focus on all of the important things around here as they are being dealt with.  God is good, all the time.

This is just a portion of the pile of debris. Hay, wood, and tin roofing were spread around to make sure that the fire was truly extinguished. You can see in the picture just how near by there was dead grass that could have caught on fire.

For the friends and family who have helped us already, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.  You are a blessing in our lives.  And for all of those who have offered to help with clean-up, we’ll let you know when we’re ready for some extra help.  Thank you for offering your time to be here for us. That means a lot.  Thank you to those who have been praying for us, for our strength, our finances, for our animals, and for our future, your prayers have really lifted us up.  To those of you who have lived through a barn fire, coop fire, home fire, or any kind of fire, really, I am so sorry you had to experience this too.  I am sorry for the pain and suffering and hurt and guilt and depression that come with such a scary life event.  But out of the ashes rise the most beautiful flowers, if we let them.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress.  Feel free to ask questions if you have them, and if you drive by to gawk, I won’t judge.  Gosh, I’m gonna miss that beautiful building.  We had the most gorgeous view of it from our bedroom window.  God bless you all.




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