Fire destroys barn on River Drive in Hadley

Last modified: Tuesday, December 22, 2015

HADLEY — A fast-moving fire destroyed a River Drive barn Saturday afternoon.

No injuries were reported and no cause has been determined, said Hadley Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel. The Massachusetts state fire marshal will assist with the investigation.

Spanknebel said the fire was reported at 1:57 p.m. and the barn — on a plot of land in the area of 343 River Drive — was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.

“The heavy wind conditions made it a hazardous scene,” Spanknebel said, with the blaze touching off brush fires that threatened nearby buildings.

Spanknebel said a number of residents assisted firefighters as they arrived at the scene. “We had a lot of residents pulling hose and line, and that was a big help,” Spanknebel said. “A big thank you from the Hadley fire chief.”

One of those residents, Michael Mushenski, described working with other neighbors to stomp out flames racing through the grass toward another barn. “We knocked it down by hand, me and a couple other guys, from getting the other barn,” he said. “Then the fire department showed up and we helped them get some water going.”

Mushenski lives next door to the fire scene, and said his mother called him about the blaze after hearing about it while listening to a scanner.

“It was probably three or four minutes and it was gone,” he said of the barn, which was reduced to only a few standing timbers within a half hour of the initial call. “These big old barns, once they get going, it doesn’t take long.”

Firefighters from Sunderland, Northampton and South Hadley’s Fire District 1 responded to the blaze, Spanknebel said, and South Hadley’s Fire District 2 provided coverage at Hadley’s fire station.

The barn’s owner, Szawlowski Potato Farms president Carl F. Szawlowski, said he’d owned the barn for about five years. Several conveyors and a pickup truck stored in the building were destroyed, he said, adding that he was glad the fire didn’t spread to several newer buildings nearby.

Szawlowski Potato Farms has been around for 105 years and is one of the largest potato farms in New England., according to the company website. The family-owned operation grows 2,500 acres of round white, red, Yukon gold and russet potatoes.

The company is headquartered at 103 Main St. in Hatfield, with a sales and marketing office in Centreville, Virginia, according to the website.

For a video of firefighters at the scene, visit

Greg Saulmon can be reached at


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