Five more minutes and the baby cows might have been saved.
Stanley Korona Jr. said 25 to 30 calves and heifers died in a fire that started in the Korona Dairy Farm’s main barn in the town of Perth Friday evening. He said four, possibly five, dairy cows also perished.
“What made me feel bad is I just couldn’t get the calves out,” Korona., 56, said Saturday, his voice raspy from inhaling smoke the night before. “If I had five more minutes, I could’ve got the calves out.”
As he looked over the rubble of the barn, a bale of hay still smoked. He pointed to a pile of carcasses at the front of the debris.
“That’s all dead calves,” he said. “They all got to one corner, and they must have just piled on top of one another. There’s a couple piles of them.”
No people were injured in the fire. A couple cows that were burned were treated by a local veterinarian, Korona said.
Korona’s father, Stanley Sr., bought the farm in 1965. Stanley Korona Sr. and two sons were in the barn, along with two nephews, milking the cows about 5:30 p.m. when they smelled burning rubber.
Stanley Korona Jr. said he thought someone was burning something outside, but when he went outside he saw smoke billowing out of the barn.
“After 10 minutes, the barn was fully engulfed,” he said. “There was nothing we could do.”
The barn burned quickly because there wasn’t much hay inside, he said. While fire investigators had yet to determine a cause Saturday, Korona said he guessed that it was electrical because of the smell of burning wires.
His father said the barn was struck by lightning eight or nine days ago.
“It had to be electrical,” Stanley Korona Sr. said.
With help from the local farming community, the Korona family saved an estimated 90 dairy cows and 30 calves, which are now staying in the barn of Perth town Supervisor Greg Fagan. Local farmers and even strangers who had never handled cattle before worked fast to wrangle the uncooperative cows, some of which went back into the barn after they were taken out, Stanley Korona Jr. said.
“They wouldn’t come out,” he said. “A cow will come back into the fire. She’ll die in that barn.”
“We were pushing as fast as we could,” his father said. “The only ones that we lost fell down on the wet concrete and couldn’t get back up again.”
Word quickly spread that the farm needed help taking the cows away, and 25 to 30 trucks with trailers “lined up for a mile,” Stanley Korona Jr. said. Fire departments from three counties also responded to battle the blaze.
“If it wasn’t for the neighbors, and for friends, friends that you didn’t know you had,” he said, trailing off. “Usually you say ‘Look at all the friends you have.’ Well this is one time we got to see all the friends, all the friends we really have.”
Korona said the barn and the cows were insured, and his rough estimate put the damages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The two silos still stood Friday but were charred and would likely have to come down, he said. A hay wagon and dump truck were also destroyed.
He said several barn cats and kittens also died in the fire.
Korona said the family’s younger generation of farmers — his four nephews and his son — are intent on rebuilding the barn and the dairy operation, which produced about 8,000 pounds of milk daily.
“We will rebuild. I’m positive we’ll rebuild,” he said. “One way or another, we’ll go again.”