UTICA — A fire which destroyed a large barn containing hundreds of round hay bales at 20464 Bell Church Road, on the county line between Knox and Licking counties, burned for several hours Tuesday, filling the sky with smoke driven by steady winds and challenging firefighters into the evening.
Over 70 firefighters battled the blaze at the height of the fire midafternoon, as the Utica Fire Department and Utica EMS requested mutual aid from 11 other departments in Knox and Licking counties.
That mutual aid arrived in the form of personnel, engines, tankers, medics, and equipment and supplies, including firefighting foam. Firefighters and trucks from Homer, Granville, Bladensburg, Newton, Hartford, Central Ohio Joint Fire District, Eastern Knox County Joint Fire District, Monroe Township in Johnstown, College Township, Mary Ann Township and Newark Township arrived to join Utica fire and EMS. At one point, 20 engines, tankers and medics were on the scene.
Homeowner Patty Cornelius said she called the fire department after noticing a spiral of smoke coming from one of the round bales stored in the large, tin-sided barn.
“I saw smoke coming up from the hay, and it just gave me goosebumps,” she said.
Cornelius’ husband, Donald, and her son, Dan, along with neighbor Jerry Hall and township trustees from Morgan and Washington townships, worked quickly with skid steers and backhoes to try to move some of the smoldering bales from the barn.
Scene Commander Brooks Schmidlin, a captain with the Utica Fire Department, estimated there were as many as 400 round bales in the burning barn. As crews worked to remove some of the bales, firefighters sprayed water on the blaze, and began removing the barn siding to allow better access to the fire.
“We’re peeling all the tin off the sides of the building,” Schmidlin explained. “Then we’ll flake the bales and douse everything with foam.”
Knox County EMA Director Brian Hess and Deputy Director Matt Sturgeon arrived to assist with procuring resources from both counties.
Water was drafted from three separate locations, including a hydrant near the Utica fire station. Crews took as much water as the Utica water supply could spare. Water was also drafted from a hydrant on U.S. 62, and a small pond near the fire.
Heat exhaustion was a concern for the firefighters, many of whom were working in the high temperatures for several hours. One firefighter required transport to the hospital for treatment of heat exhaustion.
The Knox County Chapter of the American Red Cross was on the scene providing cold water and drinks, and a meal for the firefighters. Director Kelly Brenneman and volunteers Dee Hoeflich and Linette Porter passed out sandwiches and bottles of water for hours.
“It makes this job so rewarding to be able to be here alongside these men who are working so hard and putting their lives on the line,” Brenneman said.
Some of the fire crews which had been dispatched at 11:20 a.m. remained on the scene late into the evening, past 8.
Patty Cornelius tearfully thanked firefighters from the many departments who spent so many hours at her family’s farm working to contain the fire and keep it from spreading to other buildings.
“I just don’t have the words, whatever I say it won’t be enough,” she said.