Fire kills hundreds of hogs
BIGELOW -- Hundreds of hogs were assumed destroyed Tuesday in a hog confinement barn fire at NIK Pork, three-fourths of a mile east of Iowa 60 on the Iowa side of the state line.
Four area fire departments responded to a call that came in at about 2 p.m. Firefighters were still on the scene as night fell.
The large metal-framed confinement barn at the residence of Scott Nasers was divided into two sections. A long and narrow section on the east end, only yards away from the house, was a total loss. A fire wall between the two sections limited the damage, said Seth Hofman, a lieutenant with the Osceola County Sheriff's Office, who was on the scene.
An accurate hog count was unavailable Tuesday night. According to one estimate, 600 or more hogs may have been killed in the fire. But Bigelow Fire Chief Warren Van Westen assumed the number was much less.
"I talked to one of the employees, and he said it only held like 670 head, total," said Van Westen, who had also been told that about 400 animals were alive on the west end of the facility where sows were divided in crates.
Almost an hour after firefighters arrived on the scene, heavy smoke from the fire bellowed across Iowa 60 and blew several miles further west. A relief valve blew off a propane tank on the northeast corner of the building about 20 yards from the house, releasing pressure and causing flames 15 feet or higher, Hofman said.
"All I saw was a lot of smoke," he testified. "I could see the propane tank was putting on a pretty good flame show. They did keep it from blowing."
A brisk northwest wind kept fire from the propane tank from spreading to the house. The east section of the barn, however, could not be saved, and crumpled to the ground while fire gutted the inside. The barn's west section also suffered mightily, but firefighters worked for hours pumping water onto the roof and monitoring the fire and smoke damage occurring inside.
Fire departments from Bigelow and the northwest Iowa communities of Sibley, Ocheyedan and Little Rock battled the blaze.
The fire marshal from Spencer, Iowa, was contacted Tuesday. There was no word Tuesday night as to what might have caused the fire, but Hofman said transportation workers were apparently the first to notice the conflagration.
"A woman was power washing," Hofman said. "A couple of guys doing DOT (Department of Transportation) work for the Highway 60 project noticed the smoke. They told her the building was on fire. She, at first, didn't believe them, because when you do power washing, it builds a lot of steam."
Battling the fire, said Van Westen, "was very difficult. There was a lot of smoke, and the wind was very strong. The smoke was the biggest thing, and then just trying to get to the fire because of the metal buildings. We ended up having a backhoe come in and tear off parts of the barn to get into it."
Van Westen said workers were loading animals out before he left the scene at about 5:30 p.m.