2009-02-05 / Local & State

With Ashes Barely Cool, Amish Barns Rising


LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - Some Lancaster County farmers are rebuilding barns as fast as a suspected arsonist is burning them.

At least five barns have been torched throughout the county since November, including one most recently in West Lampeter Township. Two of those barns are owned by Amish families. Both have been rebuilt. Two of the other farmers are not going to rebuild barns. The fifth barn will be rebuilt in the spring.

The Amish community for generations has rapidly rebuilt burned barns. Rebuilding can take two or more weeks of dawnto dusk effort. The project is called a "frolic.''

Amish come from miles around to participate. Some have lost their own barns and received help rebuilding. Now they are "returning the favor.''

The plan is to get the farmer's animals and hay under roof as soon as possible both for practical and psychological reasons.

"A barn fire is a traumatic experience for any farm family,'' explains a man who is helping to rebuild an Amish barn on Harvest Drive in Leacock Township. "To see his farm animals endangered and his equipment and hay go up in smoke is a scene a farmer will never forget.''

That barn, on a dairy and crop farm owned by John Fisher and farmed by Jacob Esh, burned Jan. 13. Damage was set at about $250,000.

The new barn was under roof in nine days. Workmen are putting finishing touches on the job this week.

Three men a contractor, a mason and a post-and-beam expert coordinated teams of workers during the project. As many as 103 men worked on any one day.

They built five enormous frames, each 52 feet long and 15 feet high, in the traditional manner that has been employed, as one Amish man notes, "since Noah's ark.''

But when it came to raising those frames into place the typical barn "raisin' "everyone stepped aside and let a 35-ton hydraulic crane operated by Newswanger's Crane Service in Ephrata drop everything into place.

It's more like a barn "lowerin'' "than a "raisin.'"

The Amish have been employing cranes for several years because they're safer than using poles and ropes to lift the barn frames into place by hand.

So the 9,000-square-foot Fisher Esh barn is back in business. Forty-eight dairy cows are munching hay on the first floor. Horses will be moved back in later this week. Truckloads of donated hay fill the second story.

Most of the construction materials and all of the food for the workers have been donated by other Amish. Much of the rest of the job is being covered by Amish "insurance'' a fund into which all Amish in the Lancaster settlement pay as needed during the year.

"We sure hope these arsonists are caught,'' says one worker. "Everything isn't covered by insurance. It can take a farmer years to get over the bump.''

The other burned Amish barn stood on the farm of Stephen Lapp on Susquehannock Drive near Muddy Run Recreation Area in Martic Township.

Lapp built the 3,200-squarefoot barn two years ago. It was filled with tobacco, horses, mules and carriages. After discovering the blaze on Dec. 9, the family removed everything but the tobacco.

Lapp estimates damage at about $80,000.

With the help of scores of Amish workmen, Lapp had a new barn under roof before Christmas.

Stripping tobacco from laths on a recent afternoon, he considers the arsonist.

"It makes me wonder what a person what makes him do it,'' he says.

Mrs. Jay Dieter says the barn on her family's farm in Bainbridge won't be rebuilt until the ground thaws in the spring.

Damage was set at $120,000 following the Nov. 23 fire in Conoy Township.

"We've been very blessed,'' she says. "There's been a lot of help from neighbors. We appreciate what the fire company did.''

Joseph Wivell, who suffered East Donegal Township Nov. 3, reportedly will not rebuild.

Clark Taylor hasn't estimated the loss on his storage barn that burned in West Lampeter Township. But he has calculated the value of the West Lampeter Fire Company. His house is close to the burned barn, which he does not plan to rebuild. The home's vinyl siding buckled from the heat of the flames. If the fire company had arrived 10 minutes later, Taylor believes, his house would have caught fire.

"It's a frightening, terrifying experience to have a fire break out that close to you,'' he observes.

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