Farmer left lost when sheep barn burns - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Farmer left lost when sheep barn burns

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Take a look around Ron Pullin's home, and you'll find a few sheep. Dolls, magnets, ornaments — they're everywhere.

Step outside though, and there are even more.

“Yeah, they're part of the family,” Pullin said.

Pullin's family has raised show sheep for more than 70 years in Waterloo. But Thursday, around 2 a.m., tragedy struck. Pullin woke to the smell of smoke. By the time he ran out to the barn, it was too late. Firefighters battled the flames four hours, but in the end, the barn was destroyed, and with it, 40 head of sheep.

Nobody was hurt.

At 77 years old, Pullin has won plenty of trophies, but when the barn burned, a special animal was inside – a ewe his daughter named Reba.

“Whether it's after Reba Mcentire, or she's got some other reason, she named her Reba, so Reba's gone,” Pullin said.

Reba was the closest he'd come to a national champion — very close.

“We're very proud of that,” he said.

With the incredible heat, he just couldn't get close enough to the barn to free her.

“God, I wish I'd been 20 minutes sooner,” Pullin said. “I could have got them out of there, but it wasn't meant to be.”

And, it's not the first time Pullin's barn has burned. The first barn was destroyed in Dec. 2010, though no sheep were killed.

In the most recent incident, fire crews believe the fire began in the heaters used to keep the animals warm, and keep their water supply thawed. Kris Kohl, an agricultural engineer for the Iowa State Extension Office, said this can be one of the dangers of raising animals through the winter.

"We have propane heaters normally, and if the heat was directed over things that can burn, they burn,” Kohl said.

He said the accumulation of fumes is also an issue, because when a heater is added to the mix, the whole building can explode.

“I've seen a couple of times, methane builds up from the manure stored in there,” he said.

He recommended good ventilation, and monitoring space heaters. Beyond that, he recommends inspecting electrical wires.

“As wires get cold, the copper wire shrinks and pulls out of the connections box,” he said, which can lead to a spark.

As for Pullin, he's not thinking about that. He's thinking about the sheep he lost, and the neighbors that helped him.

“We have good neighbors,” he said. “Really good neighbors.”

And while he's worried he may never see his flock restored, he's got their support.

“They say, ‘We feel sorry for you,” he said. “‘Things like that aren't supposed to happen to good people,' and that's what we think we are, we try to treat everybody fair and honest.

As for what's left of the barn –

“I try not to look at it,” Pullin said.

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