Barn fire claims more than 200 cattle on Minnesota farm

Julie Buntjer
Forum News Service

ADRIAN, Minn. — A fire at a rural Adrian, Minn., farm on Sept. 29 resulted in the death of more than 200 head of market-weight cattle.

Fire broke out as two tractors were working to pump out a below-barn manure pit on the Ted Bullerman farm at approximately 2:20 p.m. Sept. 29 and quickly spread to the barn. Bullerman is a partner in 3B Farms with his cousin, Jeff, and Jeff’s dad, Steve Bullerman. The fire was at their cattle site.

On Sept. 30, Jeff Bullerman said workers did everything they could to get the cattle out after one of the tractors blew up and shot a fireball into the rafters of the barn. He was in a combine about a mile away from the farm when he saw the barn roof engulfed in flames.

“We were pumping our pits down and had two tractors hooked to them,” Bullerman said. “The guys were pumping it down, and they had it about half empty.”

That’s when one of the men noticed the tractor that was being used to stir the manure had flames underneath it.

“They tried to get it out, but the fuel line had started and it was too late,” Bullerman said. After the fireball erupted, the barn “lit up, and that was kind of the end of it.”

Bullerman got back to the farm as quickly as he could with the combine, and the effort began to get the cattle out. About 220 of them were able to escape unharmed.

“The barn is split in two, and on the side where they weren’t pumping, they opened up all the gates and just let them run,” Bullerman shared. “They couldn’t get to the south gates because the whole side of the building was on fire.”

So, Bullerman said they instead used an alleyway access to reach that area. The cattle, though, were pressed up so hard against the bunk and the gate that the gate couldn’t be opened.

“When I got there, we took a payloader and knocked a bunk out, and they relieved a little pressure on the gate so we could get that open and get them out,” he said.

Bullerman added that there were only a few cattle that didn’t make it out of the building, but the 200 animals that were trapped inside the barn suffered severe burns.

“We had a vet come out and they have to go by protocol in a burn situation,” said Bullerman, noting that the vet euthanized 200 cattle. Each one weighed about 1,450 pounds — ready to go to market.

Adrian Fire Chief Brett Jackson — in just his second week as fire chief — was at work at the time of the call in Pipestone, Minn., so by the time he arrived on the scene, the fire was out and the charred remains of the tractors and the caved-in barn roof were visible. He said firefighters were on the scene for a little more than two hours.

“If the wind was blowing the other direction, it could have been a lot worse,” Jackson said.

Bullerman agreed.

“On the north side of that barn, just 20 feet, we had close to 3,000 corn stalk bales,” Bullerman said. “If the wind had been from the south, we would have lost multiple buildings. It would have been just unreal.

“For a bad situation, we also feel like we got very lucky, too,” he added.

There were no human injuries during the fire, and Bullerman said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up to help.

“Thanks to the surrounding departments that helped out and all the community members that came out to help,” he said. “In a matter of minutes, there was more people there than I could count. It’s gotten to be where it’s not even a surprise anymore. The community we have is just unreal.”

A tractor being used to pump out a manure pit is shown after it burst into flames on Sept. 29 on the Ted Bullerman farm in rural Adrian, Minn. While the family was able to get more than half of the cattle out of the barn safely, 200 head had to be euthanized.