August 6, 2007

Five fire departments battle horse barn fire in Franklin Twp.

Seven horses died in the fire

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

More than 50 firefighters from five departments battled a blaze that destroyed a large horse barn and killed seven horses in northwestern Franklin Township Monday afternoon.

Montrose Fire Department responded to the blaze, and while en route, called upon the Buffalo Fire Department to start rolling its way for additional manpower and water.

“The north half (of the structure) was totally involved in fire probably 15 minutes into it,” said Montrose Fire Chief Mike Marketon, adding that initially, the fire was emitting heavy black smoke.

Not long after getting on scene, additional mutual aid was called on from Delano, Waverly, and eventually Rockford fire departments, for manpower and water.

“Our initial attack was to try to save the south part of building, but fire spread into the attic, limiting the access firefighters had to it,” Marketon said, adding that it soon became impossible to enter the structure at all.

The structure, which was built in 2003, is considered a loss of more than $1 million for owners Stu and Romy Ackerberg, who operate a saddlebred horse ranch at the location.

A load of hay was delivered in the morning, and Marketon said the fire started “near or on top of the hay pile.”

“What started it is still undetermined,” he said, noting the insurance fire investigator is looking at it now.

At least 130,000 gallons of water were used trying to fight the fire over the course of more than seven hours.

“That’s the most I’ve ever known that we’ve used in my 24 years of firefighting,” Marketon said.

The north half of the building was about 60 by 100 feet, while the south half was about 150 by 80 feet, Marketon said, noting the building housed stables, a meeting room, feed room, and arena.

There were about 45 horses in the building at the time of the fire, led out of the building by neighbors who were on scene before the fire departments arrived. Seven horses, however, did not make it out of the burning structure, Marketon said.

Neighbor Mahlon Bauman, who lives two-and-a-half miles up the road from Ackerberg, received a call from the barn manager stating there was a fire, and that help was needed to get horses out of the building.

“We drove in and we were greeted by horses,” Bauman said. She coordinated the efforts to get the horses rounded up and to secure locations. Bauman said Dr. Kim Voller from Anoka Equine was at the barn when the fire broke out, and was able to work with horses immediately that were injured or in shock from the fire.

Bauman’s son, Cody, and friend Austin Figge, led two saddlebred stallions from Ackerberg’s Indigo Acres to Bauman’s barn.

“It wasn’t a surprise at all to see the people who came out and helped,” Bauman said. “That’s just how the horse community is.”

The last fire truck cleared the scene at 9:10 p.m., Marketon said, adding two backhoes were brought in to tear the building apart to allow firefighters to extinguish the fire.

Marketon said he was glad the county-wide mutual aid agreement worked as well as it did, especially in the warm conditions of the day.

“If it would have been a normal day, maybe three departments could have handled it versus the five of them,” commented Delano Fire Chief Bob Van Lith, who said Delano had 11 firefighters who responded to the call.

“For the amount of people on scene, everything went pretty smoothly,” Marketon said, adding that one firefighter from Montrose was treated at the scene for heat exhaustion.

Ridgeview and Allina ambulances responded to the scene, as did the Wright County Sheriff’s Department, Red Cross, and Xcel Energy for utilities.

Aside from the firefighter treated for heat exhaustion, no other injuries were reported Marketon said, adding that aside from this call, it’s been a relatively quiet period for his department.

“Let’s hope it stays that way for a while,” he said, stating he was appreciative of Wright County Deputy Chad Strand, who contacted the Red Cross and took care of traffic on the road. Marketon said the Red Cross, as well as Larry Miller from Red’s Cafe, both provided bottled water for everyone on scene.

“The volunteers just showed up and kept asking what needed to be done – it was great,” Marketon said. He also said the media attention received by the fire has been more than he’s used to.

“It’s kind of overwhelming,” he said from the Montrose auto body repair shop he where works. Reporters from channels 4 and 9 contacted him, as have the local newspaper and radio stations.

“It’s been a long two days at the shop,” he said “Haven’t gotten much done around here.”

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