Barn, silos and 75 cattle destroyed
Beachburg rallies to board remaining cattle, determined couple to rebuild
By Brandy Harrison
BEACHBURG — There is nearly nothing left of Harry Byce’s dairy operation after an early morning fire engulfed the barn and milk house, killing 75 cattle and damaging three silos, on June 6. But the Beachburg farmer’s wife says no one who knows him ever questioned he’d rebuild.
"My husband says he doesn’t like the taste of bought milk so he has to rebuild," says Celeste O’Meara. "He’s still getting up at a quarter to five and wants be out there at eight o’clock every night doing something."
The couple hope they can start building in the fall. Farmers who’ve been there before have already called and e-mailed Heathervale Farms with advice, suggesting area barns they should look at.
The morning of the fire, just after 4 a.m., O’Meara was heading downstairs to do payroll.
"The lights were flickering. I looked out and there was a red ball glowing on the calf hutch," says O’Meara.
The phones were dead, so while Byce got their two young children out of bed, O’Meara ran to the neighbours to call the fire department.
"He thought he heard raindrops on our tin porch roof but it wasn’t. It was cinders and ash," she says. "That’s why we didn’t get to the barn at all. I thought the house might go up."
Luckily, their neighbour, Aaron Snyder, is a volunteer firefighter and got 15 cows out of the burning barn. Their dry cows also escaped, as did the calves and many of the heifers, but Byce lost the majority of his milking herd, 65 cows, in addition to 10 heifers.
"I can replace the barn but I feel bad about the cattle. I spent a lot of years trying to build a good herd," says Byce. "I don’t reckon we can ever be back to what we had."
Firefighters from five local stations prevented the fire from spreading to the house, grain bins, and second barn, but the main barn, where a lot of straw was stored for bedding, was already past saving by the time they arrived. The fire also damaged two of the farm’s three silos, which all had to be dynamited.
A fire investigator couldn’t pinpoint the cause of the blaze.
Mere minutes after the fire began, word spread and neighbours began offering what help they could. Before 6 a.m. farmers were pulling into the yard to corral heifers and take the dairy cattle to their own barns. The remaining cattle, 25 milking and dry cows as well as calves and springer heifers, are being boarded with six different neighbours.
A steady stream of people at first brought meals to firefighters, then recovered corn from the destroyed silo, used their excavators to clear the rubble, and even planted 30 acres of sorghum.
O’Meara’s voice cracks a little as she recalls all that people have done for her and Byce.
"They would have to do their own work, their own hay and crops, but they spend their days here. Their generosity is just outstanding. We put a thank you in local papers and we hope everybody saw it, but thank you isn’t quite enough."