Fire marks another tragedy for Eden Twp. family

September 19, 2013

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John and Mel Shafer watch as fire destroys the barn.

John and Mel Shafer watch as fire destroys the barn.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

EDEN TWP. — The quick thinking of two individuals saved the livestock out of a barn at the John Shafer and Son Farm Thursday afternoon around 1 p.m.; the barn itself burned to the ground, however. Noel Shafer was in her house at 6463 S. Darr Road, studying for college classes with her friend, Melanie Stickney. One of them happened to look out the window and noticed the barn on fire.

“I just knew those cattle needed to stay alive,” Noel said, standing with family watching the fire departments keep the fire under control. After calling 911, the two immediately went to work to get the nearly 100 head of cattle out of the barn. “This is their safe zone. We are always training them to go into the barn. But, this time we needed to get them out of there.” Besides the cattle, the barn was filled with mostly straw, hay and wood.

Shafer Eden fire 1Riverton Fire Department arrived on the scene shortly to find the barn fully engulfed. En-route to the fire, Riverton Chief Joe Cooper called for full responses from Custer, Scottville and Pere Marquette fire departments. The West Shore Chapter of American Red Cross and Life EMS were also on scene. Fountain Area Fire Dept. was later called to the Scottville fire station, to stand-by in case of potential emergencies in the Scottville or Custer areas.

This is one of many tragedies to have struck the Robert and Harriet Shafer family in the past 24 years, starting first in 1989 when their son-in-law Brad Cox was killed in a farming accident. Two years later, Brad’s wife, Jean, then 26-years-old (Robert and Harriet’s daughter), was killed in a car accident, along with her 6-year-old daughter, Heather. Her son, Matt, suffered from injuries that would remain with him all his life.

RIverton Fire Chief Joe Cooper

RIverton Fire Chief Joe Cooper

Two years ago, Robert and Matt drowned in a pond on the family farm. During that time span, the farm has seen two other barn fires and a house fire.

Erik Shafer, who is Noel’s husband and John’s son, said he and John were at another farm on South Custer Road when they received the call about the fire.

“We drove pretty fast getting back,” he said. “I’m so thankful my wife was home and took quick action.” Erik said when he got there, he immediately got on a tractor and removed two fuel tanks from the barn. “I knew I could save them. There were several thousands of dollars of fuel in there.”

Erik Shafer removes saddles from the barn

Erik Shafer removes saddles from the barn

Several neighbors, including other farmers, came to help. Erik said he did not know for sure the cause of the fire but guessed it may have been electrical.

Kathy Schade, John’s sister, said the barn was original to the farm, which her parents settled in the 1960s. “That barn has been here ever since I can remember.”

As of 3 p.m. firefighters remained on the scene. After preventing it from spreading to other structures, they chose to let the main barn burn to the ground, preventing a messy and costly cleanup.

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