A Feb. 27 barn fire in western Lincoln County near the Idaho border has left homeowners Kathy and Larry Humberg uncertain if they will ever be able to replace everything they lost.
A neighbor first alerted the Humbergs to the fire, Larry Humberg said. She had heard popping noises, and saw that the Humberg’s 72-foot square barn was on fire.
McCormick Volunteer Fire Department Chief Trevor Pelling said that the neighbor saw flames on the outside of the building in a section where a small apartment was located. Later discovery of a window that had blown out from pressure inside could mean that the fire started inside.
Pelling said the fire was under investigation by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff Roby Bowe said that their investigation will take time. Bowe sent a fire investigator to the scene.
In addition to the fire, the Humbergs reported that around 3 a.m. their dog seemed to notice someone outside. Kathy Humberg said that she saw a truck in the driveway.
“We’re definitely following up on everything, and we’re getting other information coming in,” Bowe said.
Larry Humberg said that he had heard speculation at the scene that the fire may have started with a short from a space heater in the apartment attached to the barn and shop. However, no one was supposed to be in the apartment and neither Kathy nor Larry Humberg had been using the space heater.
Larry Humberg said he was able to save some items from the fire, such as his tractor and a “mule” utility vehicle, but that he lost a variety of tools, including ones from his time as an avionics technician in the U.S. Coast Guard and some he inherited from his father.
Humberg is uncertain whether their insurance will cover all of the losses that can be replaced, he said. Some items were irreplaceable.
Kathy Humberg said that they are still in the process of coming to realizations of all that they lost. As they were cleaning up, she went to get a ladder to clean snow off the roof of their house, and realized they don’t have one now.
Their three horses were safe, Kathy Humberg said. But everything they used to take care of them — including feed — was lost in the fire.
“What happened to us, I do not wish on my worst enemy,” she said.
Pelling said McCormick VFD received a call out at 4:20 a.m.
Following department protocols, he pulled out and started the department’s structure engine, leaving it to warm up for the next responders. He then proceeded to the scene to evaluate the situation.
Pelling was just arriving on the scene with a brush truck to do a size up when Troy Volunteer Fire Department showed up as mutual aid, he said.
Curley Creek Volunteer Fire District across the Idaho border also responded as mutual aid, Pelling said.
Pelling had four McCormick and around six Troy firefighters on the scene, so he released the Curley Creek personnel once they determined there was nothing further to be done, he said.
When Pelling arrived, the entire structure was engulfed and he could hear the pops from exploding ammunition that had woken the neighbor, he said. Units on scene began laying hose and knocking down the fire from outside the building, targeting areas closest to nearby structures.
At that time, Pelling did not think anything of the burning structure could be saved, he said. The roof was beginning to cave in, and it was not safe to send firefighters on any kind of interior attack.
“It’s just a disheartening thing when you come up and it’s already completely gone,” Pelling said.
The Humbergs said they weren’t certain if everything that could have been done to save the portion of their barn that hadn’t burned yet was done, but said they did not want to criticize or second-guess the firefighters on scene.
“This is to me a learning opportunity for us and the fire department,” Kathy Humberg said. “I don’t want recriminations, but I do want a good hard look at how things happened and what can come of it.”
Whatever else, Kathy Humberg said she wants to see something positive come from the situation. Several members of the community have already reached out to offer help, and the experience has reminded her of past conversation of organizing a community group specifically to help people suffering loss from fires.