COLUMBIA — It would have been a beautiful day for a horse ride if it weren't for the plumes of gray smoke pouring out of the hay barn and the flakes of ash floating on the breeze.
Brittany Logan, a trainer at Glendale Stables — located northeast of Columbia on Route Z — said she first noticed smoke coming from somewhere on the grounds of the Glendale family farm about 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The farm, which isn't directly associated with Glendale Stables, sits just behind the stable and supplies hay for its horses.
Logan called farm owner Frank Glenn and asked if he or his brother, John Glenn, were burning anything on the property. When Frank Glenn told Logan he was planting beans in a north field, she went to check out the barn and found smoke seeping from the building. Logan called 911 and the Glenn brothers rushed to the barn to see for themselves.
Frank Glenn told fire investigators that the tires on the combine stored in the barn were engulfed in flames by the time he arrived.
Over the course of the afternoon, seven Boone County Fire Protection District trucks responded to the scene. Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp said the fire was difficult to put out, citing two particular reasons:
"You can't put enough water on hay to put out a fire," he said, adding that the property isn't situated close enough to a water source for a direct hook-up.
"We're running a shuttle tanker," Blomenkamp said. The tanker trucks had to travel one-and-a-half miles down the road to the nearest fire hydrant to be filled with water. The tanker would then run it back to the scene of the fire and dump it into a collapsible tank resembling a extra large kiddie pool. Water in the tank was pressurized by one truck then pumped close to the barn by another.
Blomenkamp had groups of four firefighters rotating to the front of the fire. They worked in pairs, donning oxygen masks. Some knelt on the ground, while others sat at the edge of the barn's wide black mouth to aim geysers of water high into the deep corners of the building.
The searing heat caused the building's white tin facade to brown and crack. Flames licked the farm equipment near the opening of the barn, and roared in the building's back where hay was stacked just below the ceiling.
"I can still see flames," Blomenkamp yelled to his crew. "Lob it to the back."
According to Blomenkamp, the fire and smoke didn't pose any immediate danger to the horses that roamed in nearby pens. His main concern was containing the fire to a single building.
Frank Glenn told emergency responders that 250 rolled bales of hay — weighing 2,000 pounds each — were stacked in the barn along with a combine and his brother John's hay baler. All of it, plus the 600 square foot storage space, were a total loss.
When the fire investigator asked just how much it was all worth Frank Glenn sighed before responding, "Well, I can't say."
His brother, John Glenn, described it as a major loss. Their family has run the farm since 1856; this was their first notable incident in nearly eight generations.
Family and friends surrounded the brothers as their barn smoldered. They offered bottles of water, condolences and comforting pats on the back. One of John's friends told him it was sickening. John repeated the description.
"Sickening," he said to no one in particular. A moment later he added, "I hate losing my baler."
The cause of the fire was unknown as of Wednesday evening.
John Glenn said that when he was out feeding horses in the pens closest to the barn Wednesday morning, he didn't see or smell anything unusual. The brothers told investigators they had not noticed any recent suspicious activity around their farm. Investigators said they do not believe the fire was set intentionally.
After fighting the blaze for a while Blomenkamp sat down with the Glenn brothers to answer their questions. John Glenn asked the big question: "What happens now?"
Blomenkamp said he expected his crews to work late, essentially monitoring the fire as it burnt itself out. Eventually the roof would collapse, suffocating most, if not all, of the flames, and create a sort of chimney for the smoke to escape. Things could only move quicker if they pulled the roof down themselves but doing so would create a mangled mess of blackened hot metal.
John Glenn looked again at the smokey abyss that used to be his barn he shook his head and said, "I liked my baler."
Wanting the ordeal to be over, the Glenn brothers thought they could pull the combine out of the smokey abyss and then let the fire district negotiate the controlled collapse of the building. But their chains didn't hold when trying to tow the charred remains of the farm equipment out of the smoke-filled pit.
By 8:45 p.m., Boone County Fire Protection responders had left the Glendale farm. Blomenkamp said the fire was not entirely out but it was in a controlled state and the property owners would monitor the fire's condition overnight.
Blomenkamp said the losses were surely "significant." He estimated farm equipment losses around $300,000 and the cost of hay around $15,000. Official damages estimates including the cost of the building are still being determined.
Supervising editor is Celia Darrough.