Farmer loses barn, half his herd of beef cows to blaze

Skid steer loader sparks fire that raced through structure; despite loss of animals family thankful no one was hurt
Ozaukee Press staff

Alan Kultgen was working at Charter Steel in Saukville Friday night when he got the call every farmer dreads — his barn was ablaze.

Kultgen said he raced home to find the roof of his barn had collapsed and firefighters from throughout Ozaukee County, as well as Newburg, Random Lake and Cedar Grove, were fighting the blaze.

He felt helpless, Kultgen said.

“It wasn’t a very good feeling,” he said.

By the time the fire was out, Kultgen had lost half his herd of beef cows — 24 breeding cows — and his barn was destroyed.

“All my (2-year-old) daughter says is, ‘The barn’s broken,’” Kultgen said.

This isn’t the first time the family has seen its barn burn. Kultgen said the original barn burned in 1969.

The loss of the barn and animals strikes deep. Kultgen is a fourth generation farmer whose family bought the farm in 1901. He bought the farm from his father in 2015.

“We’ve been keeping the tradition going,” Kultgen said. “We’ll recover.”

Kultgen said his wife Kelsey was at their home at 3741 River Lane Rd. when between 6:30 and 6:45 p.m. she looked outside and “noticed a glowing from the barn door area.”

She called 911 while Kultgen’s father James headed out to the barn, where a skid steer loader parked near the door had caught fire.

“My father was trying to put it out,” Kultgen said. “My wife got the cattle out.”

His father emptied four extinguishers on the fire, Kultgen said, and was close to having the fire out when Ozaukee County deputies told him to leave rather than risk getting hurt.

His mother, wife and their two children were also told to leave their house, which is about 60 yards away from the barn, Kultgen said, because firefighters weren’t sure if the fire would spread to it.

It didn’t, he said.

“It was an east wind, and that really helped,” Kultgen said. “If it had been a north wind, it would have been terrible.”

Port Fire Chief Mark Mitchell said the department was called out about 6:55 p.m.

He got there in three minutes, Mitchell said, and the fire was roaring.

“As soon as I came down the hill by the railroad tracks, I could see the barn was engulfed,” he said. “I was surprised to see as much of the barn involved as it was. With the wind, it just took off.”

He had called for a second alarm immediately after getting the call, he said, and when he saw the blaze he called the third of four alarms.

Mitchell said that within 30 minutes, the metal roof had collapsed.

“It slowed down our extinguishing effort until we could get an excavator in there to pull back the roof,” he said.

Kultgen said the metal roof and concrete at the foot of the walls helped contain the fire.

Firefighters used about 40,000 gallons of water to extinguish the fire, Mitchell said, and were on the scene about five hours.

“The barn is a total loss,” Mitchell said. “All that’s left is a very, very old stone wall. It has to be the original stone wall.”

Kultgen said that although his wife had gotten the cows out of the barn, the blowing wind, smoke and intense heat frightened the animals so they headed back into the barn, which they view as their safe place.

“We lost just over half the herd. It was pretty much all the mature cows we had,” he said, noting the cows were due to give birth in April or May.

Kultgen said nine cows survived the night, although one died the next day “due to smoke and stress.”

Twelve calves also survived, as did the family’s horses, which were kept in a different area, and their chickens. There was a significant amount of silage stacked on the west side of the barn, Mitchell said, adding it was scorched, and Kultgen’s two silos were full.

Kultgen said the family can’t help but think about whether they could have saved their cows had his father continued to fight the fire.

“We’re frustrated,” he said. “There was a lot lost.”

But for all that’s been lost, there are some bright spots, Kultgen said, beginning with the fact that no one was injured in the blaze.

“You can’t replace anybody,” he said.

The community also quickly reached out to help the family, Kultgen said. Adam Melichar came with a front-end loader and, with the aid of excavators from Mile Rock Site Solutions and Jentges Excavating and Pumps, helped pull the roof up so firefighters could douse the flames.

Melichar came the next day and moved the surviving cows and calves to a nearby barn his family owns, Kultgen said. Bob Nash from the Farm Bureau provided a helping hand the night of the fire and the next day.

And the list, Kultgen said, goes on.

“It was kind of remarkable,” he said.

Despite their loss, Kultgen said, the family will continue farming.

“It can all be rebuilt,” he said. “It just takes time.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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