Fire crews spend nearly 9 hours controlling barn fire

Ten fire departments battled a fire Tuesday at Martin Animal Bedding west of Goshen.

Posted on Oct. 29, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 29, 2013 at 7:33 a.m.

A massive fire that destroyed a barn and caused the closure of S.R. 119, C.R. 36 and C.R. 17 in Goshen has been extinguished and crews are working to clean up the area.

All three roads have reopened to through-traffic. The three roads come together at the farm where the fire started.

All that remains from the fire at Martin Animal Bedding, 21918 S.R. 119, is a large pile of sawdust, some burnt wood and a pile of metal from the barn walls.

Timeline: Martin Animal Bedding has had problems with fires before

Crews are removing the top layer of the sawdust pile, which was smoldering, and are cleaning up around the sides.

Chief Ryan Rheinheimer with the Elkhart Township Fire Department said that one possible cause of the fire is spontaneous combustion. If compressed sawdust has moisture and the right environment, spontaneous combustion can happen. However, the sawdust inside the barn was dry.

A fire investigator has been called to officially determine what started the fire.

Elkhart County 911 Center got a call at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday about the fire. Harrison Fire Department arrived first on the scene and found the barn at Martin Animal Bedding fully engulfed in flames.

Rheinheimer said he expects fire departments to remain on scene until at least noon. The wood products inside the building are keeping the fire going, he said.

The fire department had to drive two miles to get water from city hydrants for the fire, Rheinheimer added.

Some employees of Martin Animal Bedding were inside the building, but nobody was injured.

Josh Kaufman, who lives across the road, said the building on fire had large amounts of sawdust inside.

Representatives from the environmental health division of the Elkhart County Health Department were on site putting up dirt barriers to keep the water used by the firefighters on site. Tara Still with the department said that there is potential for chemicals to be in the water. Since they didn't have the ability to test the water there, the health department is erring on the side of caution.

"We don't want it to go directly into a bottle of water," Still said.

Nine township fire departments battling the fire are Foraker, Harrison, Elkhart, New Paris, Concord, Clinton, Benton, Jefferson and Wakarusa, along with Nappanee city firefighters.

Salvation Army was on scene to provide food and drinks to the firefighters.

Martin Animal Bedding was approved in 2012 to move its wood-grinding business to a new site at 65448 C.R. 17, just south of Kercher Road.

"They are almost 100-percent complete with construction of their (new) building," said Chris Godlewski, plan director at Elkhart County Planning and Development, in a phone interview Tuesday. He added that Martin Animal Bedding was still operating at the S.R. 119 location.

Todd Anderson, the assistant director of the 911 communications center, confirmed Tuesday afternoon that fire personnel have been called to the S.R. 119 location six times since 2008, including Tuesday morning. The other times were for one machinery fire, one sawdust container fire and three wood grinder fires, Anderson said.

The plans at the C.R. 17 location included two 2,500-gallon tanks of water to be stored on-site in case a fire broke out.

Elkhart County Planning and Development requested a timeline of the company's transition to the new location, but Godlweski said they didn't receive one yet.

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