Barn fire claims more than 200 cattle on rural Adrian farm

A tractor being used to stir manure in a below-barn pit as it was being emptied caught fire, blew up and shot a fire ball into a barn housing market-ready cattle.

A tractor being used to pump out a manure pit is shown after it burst into flames Tuesday afternoon on the Ted Bullerman farm in rural Adrian. While the family was able to get more than half of the cattle out of the barn safely, 200 head had to be euthanized. (Special to The Globe)

ADRIAN — A fire at a rural Adrian farm Tuesday afternoon has resulted in the death of more than 200 head of market-weight cattle.

Fire broke out as two tractors were working to pump out a below-barn manure pit on the Ted Bullerman farm at approximately 2:20 p.m. Tuesday and quickly spread to the barn. Bullerman is a partner in 3B Farms with his cousin, Jeff, and Jeff’s dad, Steve Bullerman. The fire was at their cattle site in the 15000 block of 210th Street.

On Wednesday, Jeff Bullerman said workers did everything they could to get the cattle out after one of the tractors blew up and shot a fire ball into the rafters of the barn. He was in a combine about a mile away from the farm when he saw the barn roof engulfed in flames.

“We were pumping our pits down and had two tractors hooked to them,” Bullerman said. “The guys were pumping it down, and they had it about half empty.”

That’s when one of the men noticed the tractor that was being used to stir the manure had flames underneath it.


“They tried to get it out, but the fuel line had started and it was too late,” Bullerman said. After the fireball erupted, the barn “lit up, and that was kind of the end of it.”

Bullerman got back to the farm as quickly as he could with the combine, and the effort began to get the cattle out. About 220 of them were able to escape completely unharmed.

“The barn is split in two, and on the side where they weren’t pumping, they opened up all the gates and just let them run,” Bullerman shared. “They couldn’t get to the south gates because the whole side of the building was on fire.”

So, Bullerman said they instead used an alleyway access to reach that area. The cattle, though, were pressed up so hard against the bunk and the gate that the gate couldn’t be opened.

“When I got there, we took a payloader and knocked a bunk out, and they relieved a little pressure on the gate so we could get that open and get them out,” he said.

Bullerman added that there were only a few cattle that didn’t make it out of the building, but the 200 animals that were trapped inside the barn suffered severe burns.

“We had a vet come out and they have to go by protocol in a burn situation,” said Bullerman, noting that the vet euthanized 200 cattle. Each one weighed about 1,450 pounds — ready to go to market.

The Adrian Fire Department received the initial page, with mutual aid calls going out to the Lismore, Rushmore and Wilmont fire departments.


Adrian Fire Chief Brett Jackson — in just his second week as fire chief — said the mutual aid was needed to help supply water and manpower. Jackson was at work at the time of the call in Pipestone, so by the time he arrived on the scene, the fire was out and the charred remains of the tractors and the caved-in barn roof were visible. He said firefighters were on the scene for a little more than two hours.

“If the wind was blowing the other direction, it could have been a lot worse,” Jackson said.

Bullerman agreed.

“On the north side of that barn, just 20 feet, we had close to 3,000 corn stalk bales,” Bullerman said. “If the wind had been from the south, we would have lost multiple buildings. It would have been just unreal.

“For a bad situation, we also feel like we got very lucky, too,” he added.

There were no human injuries during the fire, and Bullerman said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up to help.

“Thanks to the surrounding departments that helped out and all the community members that came out to help,” he said. “In a matter of minutes, there was more people there than I could count. It’s gotten to be where it’s not even a surprise anymore. The community we have is just unreal.”

Bullerman said the people created a human fence to corral the cattle and get them back to the yard. There, the family worked to get them moved into some empty pens.


As for the barn, Bullerman said the pit and the cement are OK, but the wooden structure will have to be replaced.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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