Fire destroys portion of Stratton sales barn

Sam Odrowski

A fire destroyed two roofed in pens at the Stratton sales barn on Monday afternoon but the sale is still set to run this Saturday (Sept. 28).
“We’re still proceeding at this point we just have to scale it back,” said longtime sales barn volunteer and Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association (RRCA) member Kim Jo Bliss.
“We are upset but honestly there was no cattle there and nobody was hurt so we have so much to be thankful for,” she added.
Originally, the sale was going to have 1,500 to 1,800 animals in total but now it will be scaled back to 1,000 to 1,100 because of the damaged areas of the sales barn.
“At this point we’re saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take your calves and yearlings,’ because a lot of people have already got their cattle ready to come into the barn,” Bliss explained.
However, the sales barn will be unable to accept cows or bulls at this time because volunteers aren’t allowed to touch the burnt portion of the barn at this point.
Bliss did stress the cattle sales have been in the district since 1959 and bring in around $7 million a year, so the facility is too important for the RRCA to consider anything other than rebuilding it and going forward, she stressed.
Meanwhile, the fire itself broke out around 1:30 or 2 p.m. on Monday and there was a fantastic response time from the Stratton Fire Dept., according to Bliss.
“We were really fortunate because . . . one part of the wall in the north end started on fire, so if the fire department would have been even five minutes later we probably would have lost the entire place,” Bliss noted.
The fire is thought to have been caused by a spark from a power saw landing on a bale of hay that was being put into pens for this weekend’s sale, and the fire quickly spread.
Bliss said the lumber that burned was installed around the time the sales barn was built and put into operation, 60 years ago.
“So you can imagine how dry the wood would have been and how quickly things would have burnt,” she noted.
“We have way more to be thankful for then we do to be feeling sorry about,” added Bliss.
Bliss told the Times it’s unfortunate the fire happened, but after repairs, the affected parts of the Stratton sales barn could look better than ever.
“I think we’ll end up even trying to make our barn bigger to make it easier for staff,” she explained.
“We’ll probably end up with a different design, a more modern design because at the time the barn was built . . . there was only square bales of hay and everything was handled manually.”
Bliss stressed how grateful she is that no cattle were in the pens when they caught fire.
“If you see how awful it is–if you can imagine cattle being there—it makes you really appreciate that what burnt was not important,” she remarked.
“No one was hurt, these are things that make you realize you have to be very thankful.”
Currently, the agricultural community is on guard, ready to clean up the affected areas to prepare for this weekend’s event, but the sales barn’s insurance company has to complete an assessment first, Bliss said.
“We have lots of freestanding panels in the district so we can make a temporary area and still be very successful,” she explained.
Bliss commended the district for their support and said, “If anybody can pull this off it will be us,” because of how quickly the community rallies together in emergency situations.
As soon as more information is made available, Bliss said she will keep everyone posted through the “Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association” Facebook page and her e-mail lists.