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Days Gone By; Large barn on Vern Kelly farm damaged by fire

The following story was printed in the March 24, 1977, River Falls Journal. Vern Kelly provided the photos, taken by Journal editor and fireman Pat Petricka, showing a spectacular fire battled on Sunday morning, March 20, 1977, on the Kelly farm located 5½ miles east of River Falls.

A large 36x154-foot dairy barn was two-thirds destroyed by fire which kept firemen at the scene nearly 10 hours as they battled the blaze to prevent it from spreading to other buildings.

A passing motorist, Marlene O'Connell, alerted Vern Kelly and his son Mark, of the fire when she noticed smoke as she and her family drove by. Vern and Mark, who were on their way to join the rest of the family at church, were able to save all 60 head of cattle that were in the building.

Lost in the blaze were about 1,800 bales of straw and 2,000 bales of hay, along with contents in a silo.

As the firemen reached the top of the hill on County Road M, past the golf course, they could see the heavy black smoke pouring skyward. Flames were shooting out through the barn roof when the first units arrived.

Teams of threes with air packs worked inside the building while other firemen were on the roof and both sides to keep the fire contained.

A city squad car and private firemen's cars were used to shuttle empty air packs between the scene and the fire hall to get them refilled as they were emptied. A total of 14 air packs were emptied during the fire.

Firemen hauled a total of 40,650 gallons of water from a city hydrant, using its two tankers plus help from the Baldwin Fire Department to keep enough water on hand.

A front end loader, operated by John Swenson, and construction equipment brought in by Wang Construction, were put to use removing some of the twisted metal and huge smoldering hay bales.

During the course of the fire, DeWayne Benedict and Mark Kelly removed a large window, knocked out a wall, wrapped a chain around the milk cooler and pulled it out, still full of milk for the milk man.

And in true community spirit, neighbors and others pitched in and helped firemen in manning hoses, moving equipment, pitching bales and boards out of the way.

Dale Halls of the Village Inn sent a big pot full of coffee and sandwiches, and Lucille Kelly, Mrs. Cliff Benedict, Alice Spear and Lorraine Cernohous were among the ladies bringing and serving food.

See the attached Photo Gallery for more photos from this story.