Fire ravages Hebron dairy farm, displaces 93 cows

Fire causes more than $250,000 in damage at Vanderstappen Farms

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On the Vanderstappen farm,
4:30 a.m. is chore time.

When David Vanderstappen woke up at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, he left behind his wife, Katie – who is pregnant with twins – and walked up a dirt hill toward the barn to milk the cows, but something was wrong.

David returned to the house in a hurry, his wife said.

“Call 911,” he said. “The barn’s on fire.”

Firefighters were dispatched at
4:52 a.m. to Vanderstappen Farms in the 12000 block of Hebron Road, Spring Grove Fire Chief Rich Tobiasz said. When crews arrived, they found the farm's old barn engulfed in flames – an incident that caused more than $250,000 in damage.

The farm is in a rural area, and crews could not find any hydrants, forcing the department to bring a tanker truck full of water. Firefighters used a bulldozer and crawler with backhoe to pull apart the main structure to put out hot spots and smoldering straw, Hebron-Alden-Greenwood Fire Protection District officials said.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined, but authorities said the blaze is not suspicious.

Cattle trailers joined fire trucks on the property to take the farm’s cows to the Kooistra Dairy Farm in Woodstock. None of the 93 cows were harmed, and no people were injured, but the barn was a total loss, officials said.

“It’s just awful,” Katie Vanderstappen said, watching crews knock down the charred barn remains. Due with twins in August, she snacked on an apple. “It’s just awful.”

As crews worked to control and extinguish the fire, Jim Vanderstappen shifted between tears and shock.

“I cried already, but I’m still crying on the inside,” he said. “It’s been a lot of work. I remember building this.”

His father opened the farm on Hebron Road in 1942. Jim Vanderstappen was 9 when he moved to the farm. He helped build the barn that crumbled into debris and ash Tuesday morning.

He sold the farm to his son, David, in March 2016. It was important to keep the farm in the family. Farm life is good for kids when they’re growing up, he said.

“I didn’t want his kids to live in the subdivision and miss it,” Jim Vanderstappen said.

He said insurance should help the family rebuild the barn.

“I’ve got to find a bright spot somewhere,” Jim Vanderstappen said.

In the meantime, cattle will live on the dairy farms of friends. David Vanderstappen spent the morning milking his cows at the Kooistra Dairy Farm while his family watched the flames smolder. The Northwest Herald could not reach him for comment Tuesday.

The cows are milked twice a day, with a 12-hour break between sessions. Catastrophes do not cancel dairy production, said David’s sister, Kelly Vanderstappen.

“Those cows gotta get milked,” she said.