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Suspicious Fires Level Goshen Barns

by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, September 24, 2021

The rebuilding process is underway this week after suspicious fires destroyed two barns near Goshen last weekend.

The two blazes started within 90 minutes of each other, the first one occurring late Saturday evening at 25445 C.R. 38 and the second one early Sunday morning at 62045 C.R. 9, just south of C.R. 30. A few hours later, firefighters returned to the scene of the first fire to extinguish a third blaze.

All of the fires are under investigation by the Elkhart County Sheriff's Office.

The second fire, on C.R. 9, destroyed a barn, milking parlor and 40 farm animals. The owner, Daniel Imhoff, believes the fire was intentionally set.

"Somebody lit it," he said. "There's just no other way."

Imhoff, his wife Vivian and their seven children spent their Sunday removing debris and cleaning up from the fire that broke out around 12:45 a.m. Just a half hour before that, the family had finished milking cows.

"We stacked hay in the barn two hours before it burned off—fresh, dry hay out of the field," he said. "And that's where it started, right there. And there's no way that fresh hay will heat for anything. My wife was through here within that half hour to feed calves, and there was nothing wrong."

Responding to the emergency were members of the Harrison Twp. Fire Department, along with Wakarusa and Concord Twp. units.

Twenty calves and 14 dry cows were killed in the Imhoff barn fire, along with six horses. Their carcasses were incinerated by the intense heat.

"A lot of them are burned," Imhoff said. "They're just gone."

The blaze also destroyed a considerable amount of hay, including 4,000 small square bales and 40 large square bales, along with 500 small bales of straw. Some machinery, including a disc bine and hay tedder, were also lost.

The dairy's milking parlor sustained heavy damage, and two silos filled with freshly harvested silage were scorched. Their structural integrity has been compromised.

"They tell me they're probably damaged beyond repair," Imhoff said on Sunday. "They're full of feed—and it's burning in there."

A total of four farm buildings were destroyed, and the house where the family lives will need some repairs to its exterior. The intense blaze melted portions of the siding.

The Imhoffs have 90 Holsteins in their milking herd. All of the cows survived and are being milked at a farm on C.R. 36.

Some of the animals lost were special to the family. A pony that hauled the children to school every morning was among the casualties. Daniel also lost a horse that he rode every day to move cows. He had owned that horse since he was a teen-ager.

A GoFundMe account has been established to benefit the Imhoff family. Pledges totaled over $41,000 as of Tuesday morning.

Early this week, people in the community rushed to provide help to the Imhoff family. On Monday, heavy equipment was observed removing debris at the site, and on Tuesday new lumber had been delivered to begin the process of rebuilding.

When asked what he would say to the person or persons responsible for causing such damager, Daniel Imhoff had only a few words.

"They must be very miserable people," he said on Sunday.

The blaze at the Imhoff farm was the second suspicious fire reported that evening. The first—and third fires, as they turned out to be—occurred at 25445 C.R. 38, on property owned by Nelson Martin.

The first blaze destroyed an implement shed and damaged the main shop building, which was being used for storage. Several hours later, firefighters returned to the scene to extinguish another fire that leveled a third building.

Martin said it all started when he heard a knock on the door around 11:30 p.m. Saturday evening. A passerby alerted him about a fire in the implement shed that also contained straw bales. Martin said the building was fully engulfed. He said the flames quickly spread to the shop building, which was damaged but not destroyed.

Harrison Twp. firefighters had brought the fire under control when they were called away to the Imhoff fire on C.R. 9. Some of the firefighters left the scene to respond to that fire, while other personnel remained at the scene to extinguish the fire.

Martin said he walked around the property at around 5 a.m. and didn't observe any hot spots. However, at 5:45 a.m., Martin's wife Luella noticed that the sawmill building was on fire. The fire trucks returned to the scene to put out that fire. They remained at the scene until 7:15 a.m.

Some equipment, including a small tractor, was lost in the fire, but fortunately no one was injured.

Like Imhoff, Martin believes the fire at his property was intentionally set.

Martin said the person who knocked on the door to alert him about the fire stayed at the scene for a while and was not suspicious.

Martin said he purchased the property several years ago with the intention of starting a new business. He intends to rebuild the implement shed and repair the shop building. Early this week, workers were busy preparing the site for construction.

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