Essex Farm Note

Week 39, 2017

Farms have an ironic sense of humor. A wet, cold season ends in heat, smoke, and
flames. On Tuesday, we were on our way to dinner at our neighbor’s house when
Charlotte called. She was near the East Barn, and thought she smelled smoke.
Probably just the smell of something rotting in the compost pile, Mark said. But just
in case, I dropped him and the kids off at dinner and headed back to the farm to
investigate. As soon as I walked around the corner of the barn, I smelled it:
unmistakably, something was burning. But what? Charlotte jumped on top of the
round bales that were stacked under the shed roof. Ah! She yelled. There’s smoke.
This has happened many times in my nightmares: hay that’s put up too wet can
spontaneously combust. Then many things happened in quick succession. Charlotte
ran for the skid steer. I went to get Mark. Mark called the fire department. Ben got
on the skid steer, and began to pull the outer bales away from the building with a
spike. Five bales came out, hot but not smoking. Then the sixth, which was charred
black all around. The fire truck was pulling in. Just then the air hit the seventh bale,
which was near the wall of the barn, and it burst all at once into flames. The fire
truck was backing into place. The flames rose ten feet, then fifteen. Chief Ron got the
pumper going and began to charge the hose. Then the dust on the walls and the roof
of the barn ignited in a flash. Gregg and James pulled the hose into place, and turned
on the valve, and knocked the flames down in less than a minute, which saved the
barn, all the chicks inside of it, and the year’s worth of onions and garlic, which are
drying in the loft. It took another three hours of tedious work to pull the rest of the
damaged bales out, cut them open, and douse them with water. Three volunteer fire
departments were on hand, staffed with many of our friends and neighbors.

At the end of the night, when the fire trucks were gone, there was a little
circle of people still in the barnyard, which smelled as smoky as a dive bar before
they outlawed indoor cigarettes. Chad and Gwen passed around a bottle of good
whiskey to soothe the nerves, and Jeff Leavitt loaded up his excavator. He’d brought
it over when he’d heard on the scanner that we had a hay fire going, and had spent
the evening using it to move hot bales. (“I thought to myself, do I want to go now to
help put the fire out, or do I want to go later to help build a new barn? Well, I don’t
have time to help build a new barn.”) After the last friends left, Mark and I walked
over to check out the barn. There were char marks on the roof, and the walls were
smoked, and a lot of our second cut hay was burned or sodden, but otherwise, we
were OK. Just as we turned to go to bed, a bale in the ditch well away from the barn
ignited, sending a river of sparks into the dark sky. It couldn’t harm anything where
it was, so we watched it burn, marveling that a bunch of grass could contain enough
energy to drive off the hundred gallons of water that had been dumped on it, and
still flash into something so hot and bright. Then we went back to the house and
went to bed. Thanks to Charlotte for a great deed on her last week with us, to the
volunteer fire departments from Essex, Whallonsburg and Willsboro, and to
everyone else who helped. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this smoky,
fiery 39 th week of 2017. Find us at 963-4613, on Instagram at kristinxkimball and
essexfarmcsa, at, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.
–Kristin & Mark Kimball