When Sam and Eva King’s barn caught fire Thursday morning, not only fire companies rushed to the scene.
Other Amish residents along Madisonburg Pike and from nearby held fire hoses, shooting streams into the blaze consuming the hayloft. They raked sodden clumps of hay from the barn. They pulled away twisted, blackened strips of metal roofing.
It wasn’t anything unusual, said Randy Auman, first assistant chief for the Miles Township Fire Company.
“That’s just the kind of people they are,” he said. “They are very, very good.”
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Despite their efforts, the fire severely damaged the barn’s second story, though no people or animals were injured. Flames and heat ended up collapsing the roof, and water soaked the ground floor stables and garage.
The King family was able to free a horse and pull out two buggies, tools and gear in time.
One Amish man, who lives down the road but didn’t want to give his name, took a turn on a hose — for the same reason everyone else showed up.
“Well, neighbors had some trouble, so everybody came to help,” he said.
Less than an hour after the flames had been extinguished, he said lumber already was scheduled to arrive in the afternoon.
“I think by Saturday night, we’ll have a roof back on,” he said. “We take care of our own community. ... Everyone within a half a mile is here. (Sam) would do the same for us.”
The fire broke out at about 9 a.m. in the hayloft at the back of the barn, possibly because of damp stored hay breaking down and combusting. An official cause was not determined Thursday.
Sam King was at work at his family’s farm supply business in nearby Rebersburg when he got the news, hurried home and found smoke pouring from his 8-year-old wood and cinderblock barn.
“My wife came out and took a hose and tried to douse the fire, but she wasn’t able to do it,” he said.
Auman said flames were rising 8 to 10 feet above the roof when his firefighters arrived at 9:25, about seven minutes after receiving the call. The second-story roof line, which eventually fell in, was fully engulfed.
Firefighters were able to “knock down” the fire — put out the flames — within 45 minutes and save the lower half and front of the building, Auman said.
“The heat became so hot inside the metal,” he said. “We had to get the metal off, then fight it. We had a very good knock-down. I’d like to give my guys a lot of credit.”
Auman said firefighters first used local hydrants to battle the flames, then switched to tanker trucks to bring water from the Millheim Narrows and avoid depleting Madisonburg’s drinking water supply.
Millheim, Gregg Township, Centre Hall and Walker Township fire companies also responded to the fire, as well as the Nittany Valley and Sugar Valley companies from Clinton County.
Barb Abbott, a neighbor at Clouser Farm Enterprises across the road, heard sirens shatter the quiet morning and then, to her horror, saw a column of smoke above the trees on the Kings’ property. She ran over.
“I was just praying it wasn’t their house because they have a newborn baby,” she said.
She said the Amish response was typical, but many “English” neighborhood residents, among them her nephew, Tom Clouser, also jumped in to help. Some people, she said, went to fetch two of the Kings’ children, who work at another family business, a country store in the Millheim Narrows, so that they wouldn’t hear the news from strangers.
“They’re our neighbors,” Abbott said. “They’re our friends.”
King said he has insurance for the barn, but even before the adjuster arrived, he was covered.
Sweaty, grimy firefighters worked side by side with the Kings’ relatives and friends. Together, they hauled a huge wooden horse tack cabinet out of the dripping garage. Crowding around a table of refreshments set on the lawn, they ate snacks and quenched their thirst.
Auman said his company commonly allows Amish to help fight fires on Amish properties, provided they’re not in the line of danger. In fact, he welcomes the assistance.
“You can’t tell them no,” he said. “They want to help in any way.”
By Thursday afternoon, workers had removed the twisted roof, charred beams and ruined hay, and had begun installing a fresh floor.
“Probably before the weekend is over, they’ll have a roof back on and be back in business,” Auman said. “They’re remarkable people.”