Walcher Farms fire does $3 million in damage

The devastating fire Tuesday at Walcher Farms did as much as $3 million worth of damage.
Cary Ashby
Nov 3, 2010

 

The devastating fire Tuesday at Walcher Farms did as much as $3 million worth of damage.

Despite the huge loss, co-owner and general manager Ken Holthouse said there's "always a silver lining in every situation" and this might be one for the East Ohio 162 vegetable packing plant.

"Nobody wants to go through this, but thank goodness it happened Nov. 2 and not Aug. 2," he said.

 

(NOTE - To see photos of the blaze, click HERE and HERE.)

Holthouse, of Willard, said the blaze cut the work season short by about two weeks, but now the farm can integrate better work flow and safety regulations with a fresh start. He said companies that handle vegetables are always under scrutiny and this could be an opportunity for improving the way Walcher Farms does business.

"The canvas is clean right now; we can paint it how we want," Holthouse said.

Brothers Ken and Kirk Holthouse and two cousins purchased Walcher Farms in February 2003. The business has been in existence since 1896.

"He (Walcher) started doing vegetables in 1986," said Ken Holthouse, who promised that this fire isn't the end of the business.

The late owner, Doug Walcher, died one day short of the fire eight years ago -- Nov. 3, 2002.

An estimated 75 to 100 firefighters from six departments battled the blaze.

Assisting the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department were the New London Volunteer Fire Department, Norwalk Fire Department, Huron River and Tri-Community joint fire districts as well as Willard Fire & Rescue. Also on-scene were North Central EMS and an air truck from the Huron County Emergency Management Agency.

"We are pretty certain it started from a trash pile behind the building," Fairfield Volunteer Fire Chief Edward Eden said. "They were burning some trash in the back."

The point of origin was in the northeast corner of the cluster of about six buildings.

"They were all pretty much destroyed," said Eden, whose department was in charge.

While the chief said the blaze isn't suspicious in nature, he added: "I would call it careless."

Eden explained that wind blew the trash being burned in the back of one of the buildings into some of the wax-coated boxes, which ignited.

Farm co-owner Kirk Holthouse, at the scene, said after the fire started on the east side of the building, "the wind picked up and spread up to the other boxes and spread to the coolers."

"The only saving grace about it is our season is just about over. ... It's still pretty disheartening," he said.

 

Fighting the fire

The first call about the fire came in at 12:27 p.m. Tuesday. Fairfield was on the way four minutes later.

"In six or seven minutes, we were there," Eden said.

The Huron County Sheriff's Office received a 9-1-1 call at 12:27 p.m. in which the caller said "the fire has gotten out of control."

Norwalk was called for mutual aid at 12:43 p.m. Chief Doug Coletta said he could see a "large column of smoke" coming from Walcher Farm when his crew was about 5 miles away on Old State Road.

Firefighter Dave Wallace made 23 trips for water with the Norwalk tanker to a farmer's pond on Ohio 162, about a half-mile away from the farm. He estimated that all the departments made nearly 100 trips total.

While Eden didn't have an estimated number of gallons of water used, he said "it was an astronomical number."

"One fire department hauled at least 40,000 gallons. One hauled at least 38,000 gallons," Eden added. "We were pumping directly from the pond."

It took firefighters about 4 1/2 hours to control the blaze.

"We kept four guys there all night," Eden said. "There were a few (hot spots)."

The firefighters who were there overnight "were basically baby-sitting" some piles of cardboard which had been left to burn, Eden said.

 

What's next?

An insurance investigator was at Walcher Farm on Wednesday.

Ken Holthouse said he didn't want to speculate on a damage estimate until the investigator has written his report.

Walcher Farms grows, packs and ships "fresh, green bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and yellow squash from July through October," according to the Doug Walcher Farms Web site at http://drwalcherfarms.com/index..... "In late August they also begin shipping a full line of fall ornamentals, which include miniature gourds, orange and white mini-pumpkins, and ornamental corn and winter squashes."

Holthouse was asked what the next step for the business is. He said there are many options, including rebuilding at the same site or consolidating.

"No option is being ruled out," Holthouse said. "There have to be so many things to be done before we can answer that question."

Comments

samplereflector

UMM HMMMMMMMM..........Just saying..........

arnmcrmn

No I dont think we know what you are saying....what would that be?

methodman

yeah, i'm sure there's a real nice silver and gold lining in all of this.

newsguy11

PTL no one was hurt or killed in this horrific fire. Can't believe the Cynical comments by some people.

swiss family

unbelievable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hope that no one is insinuating that there was any foul play here, especially any foul play for profit..what is wrong with some of you commenter's... I would suggest that unless you have any FACTS to back up your wild accusations, it is hurtful, hateful, and spiteful to imply that this was done on purpose..

I understand coming down hard on a CRIMINAL who is caught red handed, at his crime, and I also understand completely pointing out the flaws of repeat criminals, and those who hurt the innocent. but to point a finger when someone has just lost their history, and possibly someones future, simply because it follows the path of your twisted thinking, is criminal ~~~

the sad reality is that you probably think that your subliminal accusation is not harmful because you did not directly say that they did anything illegal, but it is well documented that some bloggers seem to not even read the articles, but feel the need to reply to them, and people as dense as that .. only need to hear an implication such as this to continue on with the gossip chain and proudly tell other idiots that "they read that it might not be an accident" and they tell two idiots who tell two idiots and so on...unbelievable

swiss family

unbelievable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hope that no one is insinuating that there was any foul play here, especially any foul play for profit..what is wrong with some of you commenter's... I would suggest that unless you have any FACTS to back up your wild accusations, it is hurtful, hateful, and spiteful to imply that this was done on purpose..

I understand coming down hard on a CRIMINAL who is caught red handed, at his crime, and I also understand completely pointing out the flaws of repeat criminals, and those who hurt the innocent. but to point a finger when someone has just lost their history, and possibly someones future, simply because it follows the path of your twisted thinking, is criminal ~~~

the sad reality is that you probably think that your subliminal accusation is not harmful because you did not directly say that they did anything illegal, but it is well documented that some bloggers seem to not even read the articles, but feel the need to reply to them, and people as dense as that .. only need to hear an implication such as this to continue on with the gossip chain and proudly tell other idiots that "they read that it might not be an accident" and they tell two idiots who tell two idiots and so on...unbelievable

iceman365

Swiss family quote, " but it is well documented that some bloggers seem to not even read the articles, but feel the need to reply to them,"
You reply to everything. So what is your excuse Dear Gabby? I swear, you must own stock in this paper because you sure do use up a lot of paper and ink with your constant non-stop posts.
I wonder how many people would like to see you not comment on anything for just one day? Can I getta yah?

arnmcrmn

So because a burn pile blew a hot ember into the barn which caught it on fire and destroyed everything, that gives people the right to get on here and start the idiotic comments (methodman, samplereflector). This family is one of the nicest families in and around Willard that I know. They do and give a ton to the community and support it. Its horrible to hear stuff like this and it wasnt just 2 or 3 years back a lightning bolt caused a different fire at the Muck and this family lost a ton in that one also. Call it bad luck, but to get on here and insinuate foul play.....get a life.

concernedperson

Idiotic comments by samplereflector and methodman. Unbelievable that people even think this was done on purpose...you really think that the owners, after going through the same situation about 3 years ago, would do this on purpose to go through it again? Get real. This is a terrible thing...I bet if you owned a business and it caught on fire and people made accusations like this that you wouldn't like it too well either.

sh615

Dear samplereflector and methodman- how miserable your lives must be to automatically assume the worst of people you don't even know.
consider how damaged your lives would be if you were accused of a crime you did not commit. Speculation and rumor could circulate for years, affecting your friends, family and livelihood. Think about that before you start tossing around wild accusations and snide innuendo.

methodman

I repeated what the owner said. Maybe it's just what I took from the article." Clean canvas, we can paint it how we want. only saving grace about it is our season is almost over." No mention of being thankful no one got killed. even the chief called it careless, I'm not saying this was done intentionally. optimism must come easy for some people, good luck.

sh615

this article is the 2nd or 3rd one about the fire. they have REPEATEDLY said how thankful they were about the fact that no one got hurt. AND, you jump from "careless" to arson? seriously? when your livelihood lies in ruins around you, are you going to stand there and cry, or look on the bright side? maybe you would cry, they obviously are thankful that this happened at the close of the season and are trying to make the best of a devastating situation. another thing... how do you know, just because of the quotes the reporter CHOSE to include, that the owners did not say they were thankful that no one was hurt? i pity your life, you obviously prefer to think the worst of people.

methodman

once again, I am just repeating comments made in the article, never said it was arson, and like i said maybe it's just how the article is written. and yes if my livelihood lies in ruins around me I'm probably gonna be pretty devastated. you pity my life gee thanks, I don't think anything of anyone just making observation. 3MTA3

sh615

and you know the family WASN'T devastated? how? because they chose to put on a brave face in public? because they chose to show some gratitude and optimism in the face of all this destruction instead of crying about it? you were "just making observation"? no, you weren't you were making hurtful insinuations... you were callous and snide and didn't think about anything besides yourself and your opportunity to kick someone when they were down.

RaceTrak

So, were you there, methodman? You can say without reservation that no mention of being thankful no one got killed was ever made? Surely you do not think that everything that was said on site was put into the article. Quit trying to fan more flames - enough of that happened on Tuesday...