A pair of fire calls in the area on Saturday, Feb. 15—coming only two minutes apart—resulted in the deployment of some 75 firefighters and dozens of vehicles and pieces of equipment from half a dozen departments, according to fire chiefs in Barron and Almena, as well as Barron County dispatch logs.
A third fire occurred at an apartment building in Cumberland earlier Saturday morning, to which the Cumberland Fire Department responded.
Two 911 calls came at 6:43 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. from (respectively) a renter who lived in a trailer home just west of the unincorporated community of Arland, and an employee of Jennie-O Turkey Store Inc., who found a turkey shed on fire in the 1500 block of 17th Street, in a rural area about two miles northeast of Barron.
Because of some initial confusion as to the location of the trailer fire, Barron-Maple Grove Fire Chief Mike Romsos originally thought his department needed to respond to both locations.
“It was mass confusion for us, because … we were paged to two different fires in less than a minute,” Romsos said Monday, Feb. 17. “Later, we came to find out that the original call on the trailer fire was the wrong address, but we didn’t learn that until 20 minutes in.”
Almena Fire Chief Vince Wohlk picked up the narrative from there.
“According to the paperwork, the occupant wasn’t the owner,” Wohlk said Feb. 17. The person who made the call was a renter, Alfred Leitz, he added.
Dispatch logs indicate that when Leitz called 911, “he didn’t know his address—just that it was (near County highways) D and P.”
It took a few minutes to straighten things out, which was a relief for Romsos and his department.
“I had been at the (turkey) shed fire, then I bailed and called dispatch about the trailer, but they told me it was the wrong address,” he said.
Meanwhile, Wohlk and his firefighters went to the scene of the burning trailer, which, as it turns out, is owned by Jeff and Chris Miller and is leased to Leitz.
“He told me he heard a bang,” Wohlk said. “He got up to use the restroom, and then he saw smoke and fire. He lost everything—he got out with what he was wearing.”
Wohlk said that when firefighters left the scene, the renter was in contact with the Red Cross.
Because of the need for extra manpower and water, both fire chiefs soon called for mutual aid.
Romsos said he asked dispatchers to request assistance from Rice Lake, Cameron and Chetek fire departments.
“They all responded with equipment and personnel,” he said. “Cameron sent an engine and tankers, Rice Lake and Chetek sent tankers. I would estimate we had about 30 people there by the time everybody responded.”
Wohlk requested assistance from the Prairie Farm-Sheridan Fire Department—which sent tankers to the scene—and Dallas-Sioux Creek Fire Department, which responded with both personnel and equipment.
“If I had to estimate, there were about 15 pieces of equipment and 45 personnel on the scene,” he said. “There was too much going on to get an accurate count.
“The trailer was already fully involved and had collapsed when we got there,” Wohlk added. “The make of the unit was unknown, but we learned it dates back to about 1971.”
Meanwhile, firefighters were gaining the upper hand at the turkey shed.
“The building was 464 feet long and 60 feet wide,” Romsos said. “About half of it burned. We shot a stream of water into the undamaged portion and about half the structure was saved.”
Emergency service workers later sent smart phone video to Romsos that showed what the fire blazing when the first units pulled in.
“It is absolutely amazing when I look at the footage,” he said.
Hormel Inc., which owns Jennie-O Turkey Store, sent a press release late Monday, Feb. 17, from its home office in Austin, Minn.
“We can confirm there was a fire in a turkey barn that raises turkeys for Jennie-O,” the statement said.
“While there weren’t any human injuries, unfortunately the animals in the barn perished. Our Jennie-O team is saddened by their loss, especially those who cared for the animals daily. We are currently working closely with fire officials to investigate the cause.”
A third fire, earlier Saturday morning, was reported at an apartment in the city of Cumberland.
Dispatch logs showed hte fire was reported at 2:38 a.m. in the 1400 block of Second Avenue, near the Island City Food Co-op.
A caller said a neighbor’s apartment on the top floor was on fire. A resident had tried to put out the fire but the smoke was too thick and flames were coming out of the top of the building. Everyone was reported to be outside.
Cumberland firefighters and EMS were called, as well as Cumberland police officers to assist with traffic. A city truck brought sand for the street.
Barron-Maple Grove Fire Department also responded with an aerial ladder truck and more firefighters.
Cumberland Utilities responded as well. The Red Cross was called to assist the residents.