Century-old barn burns down in Mahomet fire

Century-old barn burns down in Mahomet fire

MAHOMET – Jack Bernett was asleep early Saturday morning when his 100-year-old red barn, a local landmark, went up in flames.

"I was in bed and I heard an explosion," Bernett said of the fire officially logged at 2:12 a.m. Saturday. "It blew several times, and I first thought it was a fire downtown until I looked around the corner and saw my barn fully engulfed. The firefighters thought it was arson, but it was so badly burned, they sorted through the rubble but couldn't find anything. There's hardly anything left but the metal roof, and the frame's still standing."

Bernett's property, including the barn, is in the 500 block of West Main Street, within city limits, and Cornbelt Fire Department firefighters called in Bondville and Northern Piatt departments to help get the blaze under control and keep it from spreading.

Bernett said his 4.5-acre property is surrounded by subdivisions. He used the barn for storage.

"I had a car burn up, a 2000 Buick Century," he said. "Nothing's left but a shell. I had a 2-year-old lawn mower, a garden tiller, a topper for a truck, a toolbox, boat motors, all burned. The only fuel in the building was in the car and the motors."

Lee Jessup, public relations officer for Corn Belt, said it took firefighters about 45 minutes to get the fire under control, and they were on the scene with several trucks and about 15 personnel, until about 5 a.m.

"It was a sizable barn, fully vented, and the fuel tank on the Buick ruptured so that added a little accelerant to the situation," Jessup said.

Bernett said his Urbana insurance agent has already sent out an adjuster to help evaluate the loss. He said he has no idea about the value of his losses although he knows the Buick was valued at $7,700.

He said his mother, Ethel, bought the property, originally 11 acres, in 1949, and he lived there, raising cows, hogs and chickens, until he got married. But Bernett and his wife, Pat, moved back to the property in 1965, initially raising livestock, and they've lived there ever since.

"Even though it was more than 100 years old, that barn wasn't in bad shape," Bernett said. "It stood all those years through high winds. It was kind of a landmark out there. Everyone knew where it was and gave directions using the barn."

He said he doesn't know whether he's going to construct another storage building at the site or not.

Ironically, Bernett said, he had recently been contacted by a local historian, John Schmale, who has organized a group of Champaign County Farm Bureau volunteers to photograph county barns and collect history about barns for a Web site at www.champaignbarns.com. The project recently won an award from the Preservation and Conservation Association.

"He was going to take pictures of the barn and put it on the Web site," Bernett said. "I don't know if he got it done or not."

Schmale said the barn burned before he could photograph it.

You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at acook@news-gazette.com.

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