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Fire kills 26 calves, destroys Iowa barn

A barn fire burns Tuesday evening just south of the Minnesota-Iowa state line. (GRETCHEN O'DONNELL/SUBMITTED PHOTO)1 / 2
Fire destroyed a northwest Iowa barn at the Rodney Markus farm, killing 26 calves inside. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)2 / 2

BIGELOW -- A barn was destroyed and 26 three-week-old bottle calves killed in a blaze Tuesday night, about a mile south of the Lake Bella dam.

The blaze was reported at 8:45 p.m. by a neighbor to the farm in Section 18, Horton Township (Iowa). When Bigelow Fire Chief Paul Hohensee arrived on the scene, the barn was fully engulfed.

"The barn was a total loss. It had a big head start on us," Hohensee said on Wednesday. Mutual aid was requested from Round Lake, Sibley, Iowa, and Ocheyedan, Iowa, for tankers, with Ocheyedan also providing a pumper.

With the farm essentially in the middle of nowhere, Hohensee said the biggest challenge was getting a water source to fight the blaze.

"Where the farm place was located, it's a lot of dead miles," he said. "We had to travel practically three miles just to get to a main gravel road."

Water was pumped from Bigelow and a portable pump set up at the Lake Bella dam to draw water.

Rodney Markus, who resides on the site and feeds calves for a Minnesota dairy, was not at home at the time, but arrived as firefighters battled the blaze.

"Flames were coming through the roof and stuff," Markus said. He had about 300 calves on the site, but the only ones lost were those housed in the barn.

Hohensee said there were no other buildings damaged, and there were no injuries to other animals on the site or to firefighters.

Approximately 30 firefighters were on the scene, with the last crew to leave about 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Hohensee said he suspected the fire was caused by an electrical issue, based on where the blaze started.

"It was an older barn, remodeled years ago," he said.

On Wednesday, Markus was surveying the damage and appreciative for the help of others.

"I want to thank all the fire departments and everybody for their help," he said, adding that neighbors came to help feed calves Wednesday morning.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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