Horton fire chief helps put out barn fire on his farm

·4 min read

Renfrew – Horton Township Fire Chief Allan Cole is known for his easy-going demeanor and sense of humour and it certainly came in handy as he watched volunteer members under his command arrive at his farm to assist him in putting out a fire in a century-old barn.

It was just another quiet Friday afternoon on the Garden of Eden Road in the township when shortly after 3 p.m. when Chief Cole, the sixth generation of Coles who have called the farm their home for more than a century, was doing some chores when his 28 years’ experience of battling fires told him something was wrong.

He immediately recognized the smell of a fire and rushed from the field towards his house and discovered one of the original barns on his property had smoke coming out on one side. He had decommissioned the barn a few years earlier and used the structure, made of wood and large stones, as a storage area for straw, grass and other vegetation with the intent of burning it once he had collected all the trimmings from the fields.

When he came upon the blaze, he surveyed the area and immediately called 911 for assistance after he identified the point of origin for the fire inside the barn. Using a garden hose, he began suppressing the small flames located on the west side of the barn, a barn that was the central part of the Cole homestead for close to 100 years.

When he initially discovered the small blaze, which fortunately was near one of the entrances allowing easy and accessible access to the hot spot, he felt he could extinguish it himself.

“I knew there was a fire in the old barn and I immediately realized it was a fire that could be contained due to the fact it had not burned very long and at first I thought it could be contained rather quickly,” he said. “Then as I looked over my shoulder it dawned on me the fire was only a few metres from a new shelter I had installed a few years back when I stopped using the barn for storage of equipment and tools.

“Having been around fires after all these years, I have seen how easy it is to suddenly lose control of a fire situation for a number of reasons,” he said. “We were lucky there was a pretty strong wind coming out of the west and in a way the wind helped keep the fire from spreading to the new building. But the wind could have just as quickly changed direction and it would have made the entire situation much worse. I called 911 because there is no sense in taking chances.”

After placing the 911 call, he and his son, Conrad, who has the distinction of being the seventh generation living on the homestead, were able to contain and reduce the size of the blaze. Within minutes, the first of about a dozen firefighters arrived with two trucks and a support vehicle. They breathed a sigh of relief when they saw their chief, in civilian clothes, waving them towards the barn and he let them know the structure was vacant.

Among the responders was Captain Ray Collier and like his fellow firefighters who responded to the call, he was happy to see his chief unharmed.

“We got the call just after three o’clock and when dispatch gave us the address most of us coming in for the call had an inkling it was near or at the chief’s place,” he said. “Driving here I think most of us were hoping the chief was okay. Getting here and to see the chief was alright was something we were thankful for.”

They parked the trucks within 10 meters of the barn and with hoses in hand, and their chief stepping back to allow them to do what they were trained to do, the firefighters quickly extinguished the remaining flames. More importantly, the chief and firefighters prevented a bad situation from becoming much worse by not allowing the fire to get out of control.

“In hindsight I made the right choice about calling 911 for help and was thankful the guys showed up here so fast,” Chief Cole said. “It didn’t take long for me to realize the origin of the blaze was the same area that I stored the straw from the fields that I was going to burn once most of it had been collected. It was a case of spontaneous combustion.

“This is a good lesson for anyone storing piles of leaves and grass for too long,” Chief Cole said. “Spontaneous Combustion is fast and comes without warning and it can be deadly. This type of fire can happen to anyone. Even a fire chief.”

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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