A Wednesday afternoon fire destroyed a dairy barn and livestock at the Ben and Genny Fischer farm.
Fire Chief Tom Moldaschel said the call for the fire on Heritage Road came in shortly after 1 p.m. The dairy barn was a complete loss, and firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze until after 5 p.m.
Moldaschel said early estimates of the livestock loss are around 20 cows while Genny confirmed there were 19 cows inside that perished.
Genny said her husband, Ben, had rented a heater to thaw the gutter cleaner that had been frozen since before Christmas.
According to Genny, her husband said the heater had been on less than 10 minutes when he saw a flash and was consumed by fire and smoke. A burned down jacket Ben had been wearing when the fire started in the barn that day shows how very different the outcome could have been.
Ben, Genny and their son, Todd, were taken by ambulance to the hospital for minor smoke inhalation and a burn on Ben's face.
"From the time it took my husband to walk 10 feet to the west and the width of the barn to get to the phone, the fire had already burned the phone wires and he had to fight fire and smoke all the way there," Genny said.
The Sleepy Eye Fire Department and the Ambulance service responded to the call. New Ulm and Hanska Fire Departments were also on the scene. Others assisting included Hoffman Construction with loader equipment and gravel to assist water trucks with traction, the Brown County Highway Department with gravel and a spreader truck, Brown County REA, Sleepy Eye Electric and Heiderscheidt neighbors with loaders, bulldozers and backhoes to help move burning debri.
The barn, according to Genny, was built in the mid-1800s by Artesians. The hay loft was crafted with hand hewn boards held together with wooden pegs. It had the capacity to hold 6,000 small square bales without stacking. At the time of the fire, Genny said, it held 3,000 square bales.
"I could accept losing the barn if I could have gotten the animals out," Genny added tearfully.
She recalled she was standing in the kitchen when the fire started. It was a bright, sunny day last Wednesday and all of a sudden the sun disappeared behind a cloud of black smoke.
Cleanup efforts are still underway as a special permit will need to be given. Genny says that while building an extensive milking barn is out of the question due to cost, she hopes to build a smaller barn and buy calves to stay in the Holstein business.
"I wouldn't wish this on anyone," Genny added. "Our neighbors and the Holstein people we know are the most wonderful people God ever created. They have come to help and bring food. It's really overwhelming."
Page 2 of 2 - Genny sold her herd of around 70 cows last June and was left with only eight. She began to build up her herd again in the past year.
She has owned her herd for the past 55 years and has been milking cows since she was 13 years old.
"I want people to know that there are people like me that love my animals and I would do everything I could to make sure my animals were happy and healthy," Genny added.
She said at age 74, raising a herd was not easy, but she did it for the love of the cows.
"They were here because I loved them and I wanted to take care of them," Genny said. "I never considered what I did work. They say if you love something it doesn't seem like a day of work."
A fund has been set up at SouthPoint Federal Credit Union to help with the cleanup of the barn and animals. Any funds in excess of cleanup costs will be donated to the Minnesota Junior Holstein Association.