The cause of the fire that leveled the Town of Mansfield’s Highway Department barn on Sunday, Oct. 7, is still under investigation, but preliminary findings indicate faulty equipment to be the likely culprit.
The fire was spotted by Mansfield Fire Chief Eric Pearl, who lives just minutes away from the barn on Ellicottville-Maples Road. He was driving by after attending the Ellicottville Fall Fest when he noticed smoke coming from one of the bays. He quickly called 911, grabbed the town fire truck and raced to the scene. By the time he got there, flames already were shooting from the building as gas tanks began exploding.
Eleven fire departments from surrounding areas were dispatched to fight the fire, which began in the second bay of the seven-bay building. According to Town Supervisor Robert Keis, all 11 departments’ tanker trucks were needed to bring water to the site.
“The creek behind the building was too shallow for water pumping, and there are no hydrants, so we needed all the tankers we could get,” he explained.
In addition to the building, seven department vehicles were completely destroyed, including a new loader and snowplow, a roller, a grader, a 10-wheel dump truck, an older snowplow and the town pickup truck. Keis estimates that losses probably will run in the $1 – $1.2 million range.
At this stage, plans are in progress to use an old building behind the barn for equipment through the winter and a heated contractor’s trailer or other temporary structure will be brought in to house offices, restrooms and other necessities for the five full-time employees of the highway department.
Fair-weather highway projects were mostly complete for the year, according to Highway Superintendent Gary Hahn, but any remaining roadwork will have to wait until replacement equipment is found.
“This has been devastating for us,” he said, pointing out that in addition to equipment, all records and office contents were lost. “We’re scrambling to get heat, electricity and water to the old building and coordinating with other communities to try to get set up for the winter.”
“The replacement process will take some time as we wait for insurance claims to be finalized,” Keis acknowledged, but “we still have two older snow plows, and were fortunate to learn that our old loader, which was traded in for the new one, was still on the lot waiting to be sold.” The dealer had the old loader delivered back to the town by Tuesday morning.
While there will be delays in getting operations back to normal, Keis is certain that Mansfield residents will be plowed as usual this winter.
“Every surrounding town has offered their support, and the county department of public works has offered extra trucks, dumpsters, loaders – anything we need.”
In addition, Cattaraugus County Emergency Services has offered to locate equipment.
“We’re trying to locate one more plow,” he said. “With three plows and a loader, we can manage the snow very well.”
As for replacing the building, Keis sees an opportunity to make some improvements.
“The barn was built in 1963 when equipment was quite different. The new building needs to be thoughtfully designed for the future,” he said.
“We feel fortunate,” says Keis. “It’s a bad situation, but no one was hurt and we can deal with the challenges in the short term.”