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Moist hay sparks fire, destroys Springhill barn

Neighbors rush to rescue cows trapped in flaming structure


by: COURTESY PHOTO: FOREST GROVE FIRE & RESCUE - Firefighters extinguish hot spots at a barn on Springhill Road. Far from a municipal water system, the fire required water tenders  to supply the hoses.Quick-thinking neighbors rescued 10 cows from a fire that destroyed an old barn south of Forest Grove on Saturday afternoon.

No one was injured in the fire, which was battled by firefighters from Forest Grove, Cornelius, Gaston and Hillsboro.

"We hate to lose it," said barn owner Martin Haworth, who owns a nursery and about 30 cows. "Especially when your way of life is farming."

Just after 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 8, Forest Grove firefighters got a call about a fire in a barn at 7845 S.W. Spring Hill Rd. They arrived 10 minutes later and found a metal-sided barn with flames shooting out the back.

Fire Inspector Matt Johnston said the metal roof and sides held in the heat while the barn's doors added oxygen, escalating the fire.

The barn's collapsing roof made it unsafe to enter, so firefighters stood outside and extinguished the flames in 10 minutes using multiple hoses. It took another two hours to put out hot spots in the stored hay, with help from Martin's dad, Hally, who removed much of the hay with a tractor.

Neighbors who saw the early stages of the fire let 10 cows out of the barn. The cows were scared and ended up about a quarter mile away, but were gathered up by other neighbors and kept at another barn for the night.

Johnston inspected the barn Monday and determined the probable cause was a chemical reaction in the hay. When baled hay comes in contact with moisture or is baled moist, it starts to decompose, which creates heat. If packed tightly, the heat "grows and grows," he said.

The barn was also equipped with electrical wiring but Johnston does not believe that caused the fire because all of the light switches were turned off.

The building is considered a complete loss with damages at about $11,000. Haworth has been in touch with the insurance company and hopes to replace the barn as soon as possible.

"We are so blessed with the help from our neighbors," said Haworth. "I can't say enough about the people who came to help and how much we appreciate it. I hope I can return the favor someday."