Jul. 8—CLAYTON, Mich. — A major fire on the outskirts of this tiny Lenawee County village burned 30 to 40 cows to death Monday afternoon and destroyed the building in which they were being milked.
But Danny Roe, Clayton Fire Department assistant chief, said it was admirable how quickly the community rallied to spare the lives of another 20 to 30 cows by moving them from the burning building onto trailers where they could be temporarily kept at other area farms.
"There were people there trying to get as many cows out safely as they could," he said. "That's all they could get."
No injuries were reported among farm employees or firefighters.
Hoffland Dairy, at 9510 Haley Rd., is in Dover Township, a couple miles southeast of Clayton, which during the 2010 census had only 344 residents — less than one quarter of the cow headcount at the dairy, which is one of southeast Michigan's many concentrated animal feeding operations.
Like many dairy CAFOs, Hoffland rotates its 1,600-head herd in shifts through a building known as the "milking house" to be mechanically milked.
Although Clayton fire investigators have tentatively listed the cause of the fire as undetermined, an electrical transformer blew just before Hoffland's milking house caught fire.
The subsequent power outage was when witnesses first noticed smoke and fire, Assistant Chief Roe said.
Investigators are trying to determine whether or not the fire was a direct result of the malfunctioning transformer, he said.
"When we got there, the building was on fire," Assistant Chief Roe said. "There was heavy fire, heavy smoke showing. In the part of the building we were fighting, the steel roof collapsed. All of our fighting was exterior."
The blaze was so big and ferocious it drew about 60 firefighters across eight departments.
In addition to the Clayton Fire Department, fire departments from Hudson, Morenci, and Addison, Mich., sent firefighters to the scene, as did Madison, Adrian, Raisin, and Cambridge townships.
An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 gallons of water were used, much of it drawn from nearby Hudson Lake.
The departments cited their mutual-aid pact as effective in multiple Facebook posts, suggesting the fire could have been a whole lot worse.
As it was, there was pretty impressive coordination among farmers to move surviving cows to safety as firefighters continued to battle the blaze for nearly five hours, Assistant Chief Roe said.
"There was a lot of help from the farming community," he said. "There were semis after semis, and cow trailer after cow trailer coming. All of the farms in the area were taking as many as they could. It's cool how everybody came together to help them."
He said they cleared the scene at 5:43 p.m., nearly five hours after receiving a dispatcher's initial fire call at 12:49 p.m.
The fire did not spread beyond the milking house, and a damage estimate was not immediately available.
The dairy's owner, Luke Vanderhoff, could not be reached for comment.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development sent an inspector there Wednesday, said Jennifer Holton, the agency's communications director.
A Michigan Farm Bureau spokesman, Jonathon Adamy, said the state's milk production usually is strong enough to withstand such tragedies, but said he would attempt to provide more specific comment later.
First Published July 7, 2021, 7:58pm