Firefighters left Illinois’ oldest round barn to smolder Friday after a nearby bonfire set the dilapidated building ablaze.
The owner of the property at 25208 River Road, Marengo, called 911 at 10:51 a.m. Friday, after learning the vacant structure had caught fire, officials said.
The Marengo and Union fire protection districts responded to the call and extinguished the fire outside of the barn, Marengo Fire Battalion Chief Noel Gaines said. Firefighters left the remaining boards to smolder inside the stone-built base of the structure, which contained any remaining flames.
There were no injures, and a estimated value of monetary damage was not immediately available. The property owner was away in a field picking corn at the time, said Rick Rath, a man who was present when the fire started.
“A marvel of engineering, this building was,” he said.
Rath had been salvaging wood from the barn for about a year, he said, and had been at the property sifting through boards for about two hours before a small bonfire he started to keep warm spread to the 121-year-old barn.
The building, erected in 1897, had been unoccupied and in disrepair for about a decade. A particularly heavy snowfall in 2008 caused the roof to cave in, and the damage was never repaired, Rath said.
At the time, the McHenry County Historical Barn Preservation Association estimated that merely stabilizing the barn’s roof and structure would cost $100,000. The 34-acre property was taxed $1,455 for 2017, records show.
The current owner had been allowing Rath to salvage non-rotted wood from the barn to make into furniture before it was inevitably torn down, Rath said. The owners, who were not present, do not have their phone number publicly listed and could not be reached for comment Friday.
“We knew eventually we were going to have to burn whatever was left,” Rath said. “It just wasn’t supposed to be today.”
The blaze didn’t spread beyond the barn and nearby structures did not sustain any damage.
Fire officials left about 12:30 p.m. as Rath continued to throw unusable wood into a pile of collapsed boards.