Fire destroys barn at Manheim Farm on Route 47 in Sunderland



Last modified: Sunday, November 01, 2015

SUNDERLAND — A fast-moving fire Friday destroyed a barn at Manheim Farm on Route 47 near the Hadley town line. There were several explosions during the blaze, and no injuries were reported.

Four employees of the farm rushed from the barn when it caught on fire. One employee, who wished to remain anonymous, was inside the old tobacco barn around 11:30 a.m. and thought her coworker, David Johnson, was playing a prank when he ran into the barn screaming that a fire had started to consume the building.

“I just saw the smoke inside and I ran through and got everybody out,” Johnson said. “The whole place was burning. It was spreading quickly.”

Fourteen fire departments and five police departments responded to the fire. The barn was burned to the ground and the fire was extinguished within an hour of the emergency call.

Hugh Manheim, the owner of the barn, said his initial reaction to the fire was a single word, “Yikes.”

At the time of the fire, he was overseeing the operations at his 350-acre vegetable farm in another town and rushed to Sunderland after receiving multiple phone calls from his employees, including his 16-year-old son, Matt Manheim, who was not in the building at the time but got a call from his friend who had driven by on Route 47 and saw thick black smoke pouring from the barn.

“Wow, it’s really down to the ground,” said Matt Manheim, as he walked over to see the damage for the first time about 1 p.m. “I’ve always enjoyed working here. There’s never a dull moment.”

Hugh Manheim has owned the farm for about 25 years and said the barn housed a few tractors along with equipment to make plastic produce bags that are used by local farmers. Only three tractors sitting in front of the barn were salvaged, one of which was removed from the shop just Thursday.

There was heavy machinery and equipment inside the barn, which was rocked by three or four explosions, forcing firefighters to use caution as they worked to control the blaze.

“Everybody is safe,” said Sunderland Fire Chief Robert Ahearn, while crews continued to pack up hoses after a 1:15 p.m. explosion that shook the ground and shot black smoke into the air.

Ahearn said the state fire marshal and a representative from the Department of Environmental Protection will examine the scene to locate the source of the fire and the explosions, but the investigation may take a few days.

“It’s hard to determine the extent of the damage,” Ahearn added. “There’s not much left.”

Manheim said he was not sure if the building was insured, adding that he has no other choice but to move forward with his business somehow.

“I put a good chunk of my life into the business,” he said.

“I’m sure we could use a temporary farm for the time being,” Matt Manheim said. Six employees who worked in the barn are now temporarily out of work. Manheim Farm’s seasonal harvesters will not be affected.

According to Ahearn, fire departments from Sunderland, South Deerfield, Old Deerfield, Greenfield, Bernardston, Northfield, Montague Center, Turners Falls, Leverett, Whately, Amherst, Hadley, South Hadley and Northampton were all called to the scene while police departments from Sunderland, Hadley, Whately, Shutesbury and Deerfield also responded.

Route 47 reopened at 6 p.m. when the last firefighters left the scene.




 


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