From out of the ashes…well hell, that’s a lot of ashes….

Well I need to confirm with the fire marshall tomorrow (this whole process has been somewhat confusing) but according to the insurance investigator, their investigating is done and we can move forward with the monumental clean up task ahead.

And the verdict of what started the fire?  They don’t know and won’t know.  Sigh. I don’t know if I feel better about that, or worse.  Every one of us who worked in that barn that day have surmised and wondered was it something I did? (or didn’t do).  They did narrow the fire down to our office/break room area, on the back west side of the barn.  In there were a number of potential causes.  A space heater (though new, one of the safety ones with protected grill) was possibly on.  I had another one that was in there that the investigator was suspicious of, but it had died and had been unplugged for about a week, I just hadn’t gotten around to throwing it out!  A microwave, coffee maker and fridge were in there. There were washing machines plugged in on the other side of the office wall (we used them to wash greens in).  And there was a electrical box that ran all the power in our packing shed in my office.  A box that had wires coming out of it that were covered with a wood panel that was open at the top.  A space that my loyal canine companion Peanut, the indomitable Rat Terrier, had, just about 6 weeks prior, alerted me that there was a rat in.  And sure enough, he was right.  I came into my office and found him sitting on top of my printer, staring at the wood panel behind which was the wire paneling.  Perhaps it was a rat down in that cozy spot, chewing on a wire.  (Peanut is pretty sure it was a rat, he really really REALLY hates rats and believes there are the cause of everything bad and evil in the world).

But really, who knows and we’ll never know. I keep kicking myself wondering if it was this, or that. And how STUPID was I not checking on this thing or that.  So many times over the years I remember getting up in the middle of the night to run out to the barn because I remember, oh shit, I think I left this on…it might start a fire!  And then not being able to sleep til I tromped out there and turned whatever it was off.   And then to have this happen, so quickly, so suddenly.  We had JUST been in the barn.  I was JUST in my office at late as 6 p.m. before running off to a meeting.  My Field Production manager Paul walked right through the barn at 7 p.m., from the back side to the front, and nothing.  Sigh.  OTOH, this whole dang thing went up so quickly, I think that it was a miracle it wasn’t going when Paul walked through.  After all, if Paul had noticed something, and tried to put it out, and then it took off like it did, he would have likely died.  So, for that, I’m eternally thankful.  It was a beautiful old barn, but it wasn’t a person.

It’s funny though, I was always worried about a fire in the summer when everything was so dry.  And I was always worried about the many gas and diesel 5 gallon cans we used to have in the barn until last year, when we installed a diesel and gas tank OUTSIDE the barn.  That was such a worry lifted, to know that wasn’t sitting in there, a potential fire hazard.  Sigh.

But…It’s done.  And we can do nothing now but look forward.  So we do.  And first step…Cleanup! Like I said, it’s gonna be a monumental job.  If you are wondering, just how monumental…well look at the pictures our amazing neighbor David Stern took on Thursday….

A closer look at the heartbreaking aftermath of the fire in this photo essay.

The scene is surreal.  Depressing.  Overwhelming.

My neighbor Karen Bishop, who also happens to be the Whidbey Island Conservation District Manger, came down the day after the fire to tell me she was already working with the conservation district to organize the clean-up.  Reaching out to folks who worked in the Methow valley after the devastating fires of 2015, in the clean-up process.  Apparently, as I can well understand now, this is quite a process.  We’ll need lots of big equipment, countless loads of dumpsters (I can’t even imagine the dump fee for all this?) and a big crew of volunteers to sort, sort, sort.  And Karen also told me that the “healing process really couldn’t start til the mess was cleaned up.”  Coming up on 1 week out now from this huge change in our life, and I get that.  It’s sort of like you had a loved one that passed on and now you’re sitting there looking at what’s left of their physical shell…As grand as she was, we need a burial service for our wonderful old barn.

Anyways, so we’ll move forward.  Tomorrow I’ll start making the calls on that while we also start working on what is farming gonna look like on the farm this year.  I look at is as I always have when we have some insurmountable project ahead, some crazy harvest, a huge field to weed, whatever it was that seemed like too big, too much, too overwhelming.  One day at a time, one step (forward) at a time.  And so…we’ll get it done.

Thanks again for all your support.  All your help.  Just, everything.

Farmer Georgie, The Smith Family, The Smith Barn and Willowood Farm


2 thoughts on “From out of the ashes…well hell, that’s a lot of ashes….

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