Fire ravaged a dairy barn Friday afternoon, killing two calves and leaving what had been a family business for more than three decades a twisted skeleton of charred steel.
Damage to the milk parlor, hay barn, loafing barn and a storage barn was estimated at $500,000.
“This is their livelihood,” Spokane County Fire District 4 Deputy Chief Joe Krizanic said of owner James Cummins Jr. and his family.
Fire officials believe the fire started in the milk parlor, where 100 cows were milked twice daily. The cause of the blaze was unknown late Friday, Krizanic said.
Cummins, his wife and three boys were not home when the fire started. They were on their way home late Friday from Yakima where Cummins received a college agricultural degree, a dairy employee said.
Firefighters - a combination of paid employees and volunteers - received the fire call about 4:30 p.m. The dairy barn near the corner of Bruce and Oregon roads, which produced nearly 10,000 pounds of milk every two days, was fully engulfed when the first fire truck arrived three minutes later, Krizanic said.
Eventually, about 30 firefighters used 12 trucks to battle the blaze. Several of the firefighters in the rural district shuttled water from a nearby creek to two collapsible tanks that supplied water to hoses.
Meanwhile, neighbors made plans to truck the cows to a nearby dairy farm to be milked.
Cummins Dairy employee Daniel Balcom watched silently from the shade while firefighters sprayed water on flames that still burned three hours after the blaze started.
“I work here - well, I worked here,” said Balcom, who was hired about nine months ago to milk cows.
Balcom said she was careful to turn off all the lights when she left about 2:30 p.m. after letting the cows out to pasture. She was supposed to return five hours later to milk them.
“I was out here a couple of hours ago to put the cows out …,” said a disbelieving Balcom.
Relatives said Cummins’ father, James Sr., bought the dairy barn more than 30 years ago. Father and son ran the dairy side by side for several years. James Jr. took over the business a couple of years ago when his father died, said Thomas Cummins, the brother of the elder James.
“They were just a young couple when they bought this,” Thomas Cummins said of his brother and sister-in-law.
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