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150-year-old structure, farm equipment destroyed in blaze

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Firefighters suspect a lightning strike sparked a fire that destroyed a 150-year-old barn near Elizabethtown about 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

Owner Joyce Bolton said she was in disbelief as she stood watching the fire and the firefighters attempting to save the barn at 7561 S. County Road 750E.

“We don’t know what we’ll do,” she said. “That was an old barn. I hate to see it torn down.”

By 7:30 p.m., the fire had destroyed the structure, with only blackened farm equipment remaining in the smoldering rubble. Firefighters stayed at the scene putting out hotspots.

Volunteer firefighters from six area departments worked with tankers to haul about 200,000 gallons of water that was poured on the barn for nearly five hours.

The firefighters drove tankers to a fire hydrant at the Apex Tool Station on State Road 7 about two-and-a-half miles away, refilled and returned to the scene in a rotation.

About four years ago, the family covered the wooden barn with white aluminum siding that reflected the heat from the fire back at the firefighters.

Firefighters said no one was at the barn when the fire started. Unidentified witnesses called 911 to say they saw smoke coming from the top of the barn and could hear the fire inside it, firefighters said.

No injuries were reported, although firefighters requested a medic from Columbus to be available if anyone was overcome by the heat.

Temperatures were in the mid- to upper-80s as the firefighters worked at the scene.

Firefighters called in animal control workers to move three large horses and a dog away from the flames and heat.

The animals were taken to a nearby pasture, and firefighters watched them until they were turned over to animal control.

“When I got here, there was heavy smoke on the southwest corner. Within just a couple of minutes I started seeing flames,” said Mike Barnes, a captain with the Elizabethtown Volunteer Fire Department. “I know it started there, but how is still questionable.”

Firefighters determined the barn didn’t have any electrical service and the fire started at the roof level, leading them to suspect that the fast-moving storm that crossed Bartholomew County on Wednesday afternoon caused lightning that caused the fire, Barnes said.

Because of the heat reflecting off the aluminum panels, firefighters took turns spraying water on the barn, with some shucking off their gear and drinking water while other firefighters took their place.

The Bolton family used the barn for storage, said Rex Bolton, Joyce’s son, who was also at the fire scene.

“But we don’t have anything to store in it now,” he added.

About 300 bales of hay were stores in the top area of the barn to feed the horses.

Two combines, hay and a wagon were believed to be inside the barn.

The structure was insured, but neither firefighters nor the family had a damage estimate or what the barn was worth.

However the family said the barn’s foundation was made of stone and that it contained an imprint of 1864. The floor of the barn was also made of stone, Rex Bolton said.

Richard Pettit, who lives next to the barn, said he was sleeping when he was awakened by the fire engine sirens.

He stepped outside and said he could immediately feel the fire’s heat against his face.

“The roof was intact and everything. You could just see a little flame coming out of the top window,” he said. “Once the hay caught on fire, it went real quick.”

The aluminum siding seemed to be acting like a shield against the water, making the efforts to put out the fire very difficult, Pettit said.

Firefighters from Clay, Wayne, Columbus and Geneva townships were called to the scene, along with Jonesville and Elizabethtown volunteer firefighters.

As the fire continued to burn at about 6 p.m., Barnes said firefighters were focusing on keeping the building from collapsing near emergency personnel.

“We’ve actually got an excavator on its way to help us get it down because the structure isn’t sound enough to safely be trying to fight it now,” Barnes said.

He said he expected firefighters to be at the scene until at least 8 p.m.

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