NORTH FAIRFIELD — The smoke from the Walcher Farms fire Tuesday could be seen from quite a distance away.
As the Norwalk crew was about 5 miles away on Old State Road, Norwalk Fire Chief Doug Coletta said he could see a “large column of smoke.” The series of large steel barn-like buildings were fully engulfed when the seven Norwalk firefighters arrived just before 1 p.m.
“I think most of them were steel skin buildings,” said Coletta, who didn’t notice the fire being any more powerful at one particular structure. “They were all pretty intense.”
Mutual aid for the fire at 866 E. Ohio 162 was called into the Norwalk Fire Department at 12:43 p.m. The crew arrived 12 minutes later.
Also assisting the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department were the New London Volunteer Fire Department, Huron River and Tri-Community joint fire districts as well as Willard Fire & Rescue.
Coletta talked about what the Norwalk crew did.
“We set up the engine, pumped the water and manned the hoses. We also used the deck gun,” he said. “I think we made about 20 trips with our tanker — 2,000 gallons each trip.”
Firefighter Dave Wallace drove the Norwalk tanker. He said he made 23 trips to a farmer’s pond about a half-mile away from Walcher Farm. Wallace estimated that the four or five departments made nearly 100 trips total.
Farm co-owner Kirk Holthouse said his brother and two cousins bought the business eight years ago following the death of former owner Doug Walcher.
In fact, he said, Walcher died one day short of eight years ago — Nov. 3, 2002.
Holthouse said the fire started on the east side of the building and then “the wind picked up and spread up to the other boxes and spread to the coolers.
“The boxes are coated with wax. ... The only saving grace about it is our season is just about over,” he said. “It’s still pretty disheartening.”
Coletta was asked if he heard anything at the scene about a possible cause.
“I heard nothing,” the chief said.
The boxes in the building are used to ship the vegetables.
Coletta recalled seeing “a lot of pumpkins and gourds” and “piles of onions” near some of the buildings.
Holthouse said most of the help is gone for the season and none of his employees were injured.
Norwalk firefighters returned to the city at 5:29 p.m. Coletta said his men left when the blaze pretty much was under control.
“Some departments will be there all night,” the chief said.
Fairfield Volunteer Fire Chief Edward Eden was unavailable for comment Tuesday night.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Reflector managing editor Joe Centers contributed to this story.