Weather Forecast


Fire destroys dairy barn filled with animals in northern Minn.

1 / 3
A Motley firefighter sprays water Friday morning on the Richard Swartz’s family dairy barn Friday morning. The early morning blaze killed 17 dairy cows, a calf and chickens on the farm east of Motley. The Motley and Pillager fire departments fought the blaze in sub-zero temperatures. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service2 / 3
Neighbors and friends of the Richard Swartz family try to catch chickens Friday morning in the smokey barn. Fire destroyed most of the dairy barn killing 17 cows, a calf and chickens. The Motley and Pillager fire departments responded to the blaze in sub-zero temperatures. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service3 / 3

MOTLEY, Minn.—It was a horrific scene no farmer ever wants to see—a barn filled with animals being destroyed by a fire.

Early Friday morning, Richard and Sally Swartz watched their barn just east of Motley in northern Minnesota burn to the ground.

"It has not been a good day," Richard Swartz said in a telephone interview. Swartz said his son, Richard Jr., checked the dairy and beef cows about 6 a.m. and then left the property, and his wife typically goes out to the dairy barn about 8:30 a.m. to work.

"It was just a little after 7 a.m. and she hollered at me as I was sitting on a chair in the living room and said the barn's on fire," Swartz said. "I called the fire department and the barn went down. We had Pillager and Motley (fire departments) here but that barn is 50 some years old and boy when she got going she went."

Swartz said they lost all the animals in the barn, as the dairy cows were tied in their stalls.

"The smoke was so heavy in there, we couldn't get in there," Swartz said. "We were only able to get one calf out. My son and his wife came right away and the fire department came and we don't have a barn anymore or any more dairy cows."

The fire destroyed the barn, 22 chickens, 17 dairy cows and a calf. Some equipment also was destroyed, but family was able to retrieve the tractors in the barn.

Swartz said the family has 200 acres. His father purchased the property in 1955. Swartz took over the farm in the early 1960s.

"I've been milking cows for 50 some years," Swartz said. "And now they are all gone."

Swartz said the family house, the beef cattle and laying hens on the property were far enough away from the fire and were safe. Swartz said his two adult children and his wife do all the work on the farm, as he is not physically able to do the work anymore.

"At least no one was in the barn as they would have gotten burned to death. I hate to see those cows die. They were born here and they worked for me all their lives. ... I have to get those dead cows out of there. They have to be buried."

Swartz said he has no idea how the fire started.

Calls were made to Motley Fire Chief Todd Judd, but he could not be reached.

Pillager Fire Chief Greg Ringer, who was at the scene, said 16 firefighters were on scene and Pillager firefighters battled the east side of the barn, while Motley firefighters battled the west side. Ringer had no further details on the fire.

Jennifer Kraus

A big part of my day is chasing down tips on a variety of breaking news stories, relating to vehicle crashes, fires, police incidents and court cases. I’m always thankful when people call in tips to alert me on an incident so I can follow up and see if the tip is actually something that occurred or is a rumor. It’s a big scope to keep track of as we not only cover Brainerd and Crow Wing County incidents, but we also cover the surrounding counties and cities. I also gather information on the entertainment scene, so if you are hosting a band or choir concert, an art exhibit, a play or other theater production -- I want to hear about it. If you know of a story on any of these beats, give me a shout! To help support local journalism, click here to sign up to receive a Dispatch digital subscription to our e-edition or to receive the printed paper at your door, or to get both.

(218) 855-5851