Fire levels landmark barn

BELLEFONTE — A fast-moving fire destroyed a red barn that had stood along the Benner Pike for more than 160 years, a landmark that was actually picked up and moved two years ago to preserve it after a land sale.

The 45-by-85-foot barn owned by Larry and Vicki Jodon collapsed within about an hour of firefighters being called at 4 a.m. Thursday.

“It was hard to watch 160 years of family history go down the drain,” Larry Jodon said.

No one was hurt battling the fire, said Bellefonte Fire Chief Fred Bruno.

“It was fully involved when we arrived at the scene,” the chief said. “Basically, we went into a defensive mode and protected surrounding structures.”

A small office building within 50 feet of the burning barn and a storage shed located even closer were undamaged as a result.

Two years ago, when Larry Jodon sold the land on which the barn sat to the Penn State Federal Credit Union, he had the structure towed across a lot — about 100 feet in all — and onto a nearby field. The Jodons said then they could not give up the barn, built by the family in 1847.

The barn, which was an antiques business from 1992-2002, was nearly empty. Larry Jodon said he had been trying to decide what to do with it and toyed with the idea of turning it into a restaurant.

Some antiques and family heirlooms were lost, he said.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined and a state police fire marshal has been called to investigate, Bruno said. There were no utilities connected to the building, its owner said, so it had to have been intentionally set.

A fire marshal investigating the fire could not be reached Thursday.

In addition to the nearby buildings, firefighters were also concerned about the intense heat and flames touching off a wildfire in nearby fields leading to other developments.

“We did bring in some brush trucks in case the field did go, with all of those nearby townhouses that were built,” Bruno said.

Larry Jodon praised the work of firefighters, saying that while they could not save his barn, they saved a number of other buildings near to the intense heat and flames made even more dangerous by wind.

“These guys did a phenomenal job,” Larry Jodon said. “There was a shed not 10 feet from the barn and the paint wasn’t even peeled.”

Bellefonte firefighters, both Logan and Undine, were assisted at the scene by firefighters from Milesburg, Pleasant Gap, Alpha Fire Company and Bellefonte EMS. Walker Township Fire Company sent personnel to staff Bellefonte’s fire stations in case of a call during the fire. Alpha fire police also assisted at the scene, closing the Benner Pike for a time until firefighters were certain surrounding buildings and fields were safe, Bruno said.

Firefighters cleared the scene at about 7:30 a.m.

Pete Bosak can be reached at 235-3928.