Barn goes up in flames; dairy cows safe

PHIL HOLMES & LANA MUTHLER/FOR THE EXPRESS At top, an equipment barn on the Ben and Kim Carson dairy farm was destroyed by flames Wednesday night. Above at left, friends and neighbors volunteer to help after the fire. Ben Carson is seen second from right. At left, the remains of the equipment barn are seen.

JERSEY SHORE — A pile of huge, charred barn beams surrounding blackened pieces of metal that once plowed the fields and planted crops is all that remained of the equipment barn on the Carson farm.

The body of a calf lay nearby, the only victim of the fire that lit up the night skies in brilliant orange and yellow flames Wednesday night and burned the old barn along Sulphur Run Road to the ground.

As Kim and Ben Carson stared at the remnants of the fire early Thursday morning, they were saddened at the loss, but found so much to be grateful for and thanked God for all they have.

“The silos all work. The cows are all okay. The milk barn is fine. The house is fine. The kittens are fine… we’re all fine, too. There’s a lot of positives here,” Kim said, as she talked about the fire that erupted in a split second the night before and quickly destroyed the barn that was used to store equipment.

“And… there are lots of wonderful people in this community,” she continued, emotion on her face as she talked about the dozens of family members, friends and neighbors who arrived as the flames spewed bits of burned debris into the air, threatening the family home and other buildings on the decades-old dairy farm that sits along Pine Creek.

But for the roof of a smaller building called the shop, the fire was contained to the equipment barn.

Even a huge stack of firewood beside the equipment barn was unscathed, as firefighters poured water onto the rows of logs to keep them from burning.

It was just about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and the Carsons had just come home from church and begun to prepare for bed when they heard a bang and thought the milk truck had arrived and struck something.

As Kim looked out to see, she yelled that the barn was on fire.

The family, which also includes two sons and two daughters, went into rescue mode.

Ben and son Josh ran to the cow barn and opened the doors to let the 59 dairy cows out. They ran from the barn in every direction.

Kim moved the family’s vehicles away from the fire and then went to the five calf pens alongside the burning barn. All but one calf was safely released.

“I tried to get the last one out… but it was too hot. I just couldn’t do anything,” Kim lamented.

Soon friends who had heard about the fire began arriving and corraling the scared cows that were haphazardly running through the field, finally getting all of them to safety in another barn.

“I can’t believe it… all the people who turned up… running through the mud to help get the cows,” she said, mentioning a few of the women by name and shaking her head in disbelief.

By then, firefighters from more than a dozen fire departments in Clinton and Lycoming counties were arriving.

But it was already too late to save the equipment barn. All they could do was keep the fire from spreading to other buildings.

At one point, Kim said, the wind was blowing fiery debris high in the sky and right toward the house.

“I asked God to please not let the roof catch fire and burn our home. Just then it seemed the wind changed directions,” she said with a soft smile.

A neighbor just down the road, Carol Crawford, was one who heard and saw the fire and came to help.

She said she heard what sounded like an “explosion.”

At first, she said, she thought it was a gunshot. Then she saw the flames, called 911 and went to the farm to help out.

As for the cause, Ben said it could have been electrical in nature. He said he had an older Skid Steer in the barn that he plugs in at night to keep warm.

Other items in the barn that were lost included a tractor, another Skid Steer, a planter, a tub grinder and much more farm equipment.

“That’s where we kept all the equipment,” Ben said.

Kim said she believed one tractor was not in the barn at the time.

Fire officials were expected back at the scene Thursday to try and determine the exact cause.

Meanwhile, fellow farmers had already volunteered to help.

They helped move the dairy cows back into the cow barn at 9 a.m. Thursday and milked them right on schedule.

Others were making plans to help get the cleanup started as soon as insurance agents had completed their investigation.

The farm is owned and operated by Ben and Kim Carson, and Ben’s brother, Keith and his wife Jana Carson, who live down the road a short distance.

The first emergency call was at 9:34 p.m. Fire stations responding included Avis, Woolrich, Dunnstown, Wayne Township, Castanea and Mill Hall, and from Lycoming County, Jersey Shore, Larry’s Creek, Woodward Township, Antes Fort, NittanyValley and Jersey Shore Emergency Medical Services. All companies were reported back in service at 2:40 a.m. Thursday.