Fire destroys Valley dairy barn, but owners plan to rebuild local landmark

Zaz Hollander
The Fishhook dairy barn was destroyed by fire on Wednesday March 5, 2014.
Amy Harmon
The Fishhook dairy barn was destroyed by fire on Wednesday March 5, 2014.
Amy Harmon

PALMER -- Fire destroyed the old Fishhook Dairy barn Wednesday, putting an end to a local landmark that once housed cows and a milking parlor that supplied the old Matanuska Maid operation.

But the barn owned by a longtime Valley farm family along Palmer-Fishhook Road  is expected to rise again.

Owners Amy and Lee Harmon plan to rebuild.

"The original milking parlor is out of rock, and the fire got there last," Harmon said Friday afternoon. "I think it would be really cool to build almost a mini replica, kinds of throwback to the old barn, a smaller version."

She thinks a heat lamp in a chicken coop may have started the fire. Two of the family's 13 chickens are still missing, but no other animals were lost.

Harmon is the granddaughter of June and Clyde Oberg, who fashioned the barn out of a mostly steel military building from Fort Richardson, where it spent World War II storing gear at the rifle range.

He used the main barn to store hay and kept as many as 60 cows on the ground floor, Clyde Oberg said Friday.

"It's been there for 54 years," he said. "I thought it might be there another 54."

Harmon, a 32-year-old mother of four, was home when the fire started Wednesday afternoon.

A friend saw smoke and called her, she said. She ran outside, heard crackling coming from a chicken coop inside the barn, and ran back to the house. The Harmons live downstairs; the Obergs, who sold the 11-acre property to their granddaughter, live upstairs.

Harmon called her grandparents from outside and they had fire extinguishers ready by the time she got inside as well as a hose left in the garage so it wouldn't freeze. Harmon ran back outside, called 911, and they fought the fire with extinguishers and the hose, though it only reached the barn door.

Once the extinguishers ran out, though, the fire took over.

"I looked back through my phone log," Harmon said. "From the time I got THE? call from the friend who saw smoke to (when) we all are cleared out of barn and (were) taking pictures of it completely up in flames was about 10 minutes total."

The 911 call came in at just after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to Palmer fire Chief John McNutt. Responders had spent the snowy day running to scores of highway accidents; the barn fire was the second structure fire within a few hours that afternoon.

Engines from Palmer, Sutton and Central Mat-Su Fire Department in Wasilla responded to the barn fire, which sent up a column of smoke visible from the Palmer-Wasilla Highway several miles away, McNutt said.

The barn was fully engulfed in flames by the time the first crews arrived, he said.

Eleven of the family's Golden Comet chickens escaped, though some singed their feathers, she said. Most keepsakes, as well as the snowmachines and other equipment stored inside, weren't so lucky.

Firefighters managed to drag out a cedar chest that held her grandfather's World War II uniform and her grandmother's wedding dress, along with some photographs, Harmon said.

The barn holds all kinds of memories for family members -- the Obergs fostered about 50 children over the years -- but also other Valley residents, as indicated by dozens of Facebook posts about the fire and memories of the barn from people from around the Mat-Su this week.

"The firefighters were great. They did their job but we were really impressed with the fact they saved some of the stuff knowing it was probably important to us," Harmon said. "We know it's just a barn and it's just stuff but everybody in the community has been really kind just letting us know, 'We're sad it's gone.'"

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.