MOUNT VERNON — For the second time this week, spontaneous combustion in large bales of hay is being blamed for a barn fire which brought firefighters from 17 departments to Shipley Farms south of Utica overnight. The fire engulfed a 60-by-100 foot, steel-sided barn filled with hundreds of bales of fresh hay.
The Homer Fire Department was dispatched around 9:15 Monday evening, according to Homer Fire Lt. Tom King. Workers at the family dairy operation, which has approximately 600 head of dairy cattle and calves, had finished for the night when the fire was discovered.
“They had just finished; he’d been in about 15 minutes,” Janine Shipley said of her husband, Tim.
“It’s just getting hotter and hotter,” she said, watching with family members as more firefighters arrived from neighboring departments.
Mike Shipley, who works as a Pataskala firefighter, was driving on Reynolds Road when he spotted the smoke and reported the fire, Janine explained.
The smoke could be seen well into Knox County, and from inside the village of Utica. Family friend Diana Thomas said she heard Utica’s fire siren go off, alerting volunteers, and noticed the blaze toward the south. She came to see how she could help, and passed out sandwiches to the firefighters.
By midnight, all Knox County fire departments, as well as several Licking County departments, had been dispatched.
“It’s a mess, that’s for sure,” King said around 12:30 this morning as 20 tankers rushed to haul enough water to the scene.
Firefighters drafted water from two locations in the village of Utica, as well as two ponds closer to the scene during the night.
“Right now they’re using a backhoe and a skid loader to pull all of the burning hay out, spread it out, and put it out,” King said.
Firefighting foam was ordered from a supplier in Findlay. King said 250 gallons were used once the hay was pulled from the fire.
At 5:30 this morning, shortly after the situation was contained, King said over 300,000 gallons of water had been used through the night.
Well over 100 firefighters were on the scene at the height of the fire. King said that early on, a shortage of manpower and water hindered firefighters, but requests to mutual aid departments quickly put crews in front of the fire.
Contrary to reports from other media outlets, the Shipley family and the Homer Fire Department confirmed this morning that fire damage was limited to the single barn and its contents.
“There were 800 square bales in the barn, and a fairly new tractor and feed mixing wagon, less than a year old,” Phil Shipley said.
Granddaughter Stacey Atherton, who works in the dairy operations at the farm, said each bale weighed around 800 pounds.
Phil and Donna Shipley praised the work of the firefighters.
“The firemen just did a wonderful job,” said Donna. “We were so glad it didn’t spread to the livestock.”
Phil estimated the barn and its contents, which were a total loss, were worth around $250,000.
King said family members and farm personnel worked along firefighters to keep the fire contained.
“The family was there working with us with skidloaders and a trackhoe and bulldozer to get the hay out of the barn,” he said.
“Everybody did a wonderful job and we appreciate all of the help,” King said of the multi-department effort.
The Licking County Salvation Army, and Homer and Utica fire auxiliaries assisted firefighters with food and drinks.
Fire departments began returning to their stations around 3:30 a.m.
There were no injuries.