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justine wettschreck/Daily Globe Pools of water and charred debris are left behind after the blaze that destroyed three buildings and killed more than 300 sows Wednesday morning near Ocheyedan, Iowa.

Fire in Ocheyedan

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OCHEYEDAN, Iowa -- A blaze in Ocheyedan, Iowa, killed more than 300 sows Wednesday morning, with four area departments working for hours to battle the flames.

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According to the Osceola County Sheriff's Department, the May City Fire Department was dispatched at 6:43 a.m. Wednesday to the Bruce and Beth Lorch farm in the 2100 block of White Avenue.

"When we found out the location, we knew it was a pork producer and knew the fire was decent-sized," said May City Fire Chief Nick Shaffer. "One of my guys called in Melvin (Fire Department) right away."

When May City arrived at the scene, the Osceola County Sheriff's Department was already on site.

"We told him to call in Ocheyedan and Harris (fire departments); I knew we'd need at least a couple more pumpers, and if nothing else, we'd need more water," Shaffer explained.

To the best of his calculations, the fire departments, working together, went through 35,000 to 40,000 gallons of water in their efforts to fight the blaze and save as many of the structures as they could.

Shaffer said when they arrived, one of the buildings and an alleyway connecting a second building were totally engulfed in fire. There was four buildings total, all connected by alleyways, he added.

"The second building was burning pretty decent. The next one to the north, we couldn't see very well," he explained. "We started fighting the fire between an alleyway and the next one to try to save at least the one so they didn't end up losing all three. They ended up with some fire damage on the last, but not a lot. We ended up saving, for the most part, one of them."

It was a cool morning, but the wind from the southeast gave the firefighters a good location for running their equipment.

"On one corner, we had a couple of guys getting overspray from some other guys shooting water from another location," Shaffer stated. "After a while, they couldn't move because they were frozen. I'm not kidding -- their bunkers were literally frozen. And after today, we're putting in an order for more gloves. Everyone's gloves were soaked through. It would have been nice to switch out gloves."

While the death of the sows is a huge loss to the Lorch family, there were no injuries to firefighters during the blaze, according to Shaffer.

"We had an ambulance from Sibley on hand just in case, but to my knowledge, there were no injuries of any sort," he stated.

Shortly after 11 a.m., all fire personnel had left the scene. Bruce Lorch and others were hard at work moving vehicles and beginning the cleanup process, trying to determine what, if anything, could be salvaged. An electric crew worked to restore a power line, generally one of the first things cut during firefighting efforts. While a barn filled with milling, snuffling hogs still remained, several piles of blackened wood, metal and debris smoldered in the sunlight nearby.

A few miles away in May City, Shaffer and his fellow firefighters worked to clean, thaw and dry out vital equipment while similar scenarios were being played out in the Harris, Melvin and Ocheyedan fire halls.

Shaffer did speak to the fire marshal Wednesday, but could not reveal anything about that conversation and is not able to state anything about a possible cause of the fire.

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