By Travis Mounts
The smell of smoke was still strong in the hot morning air on Monday at Lynn Buerki’s farm east of Goddard, nearly 48 hours after the fire. Smoke wafting up through a crevice in the debris gave away the location of a hidden hot spot that was still smoldering.
Saturday’s fire near 23rd Street South and 151st Street West destroyed a shop and a pair of lean-tos that were supposed to protect farm equipment. It consumed five tractors and five trucks, and numerous tools and pieces of equipment. An estimate of the damage was not immediately available, and investigators are just this week beginning their hunt for a cause.
The fire was reported around 12:30 p.m.
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“I was a half-mile away and saw the smoke,” said Dan Buerki, Lynn’s son. Farming is a multi-generational effort, and Dan lost possessions in the fire, too. “Dad was 10 miles away and saw the smoke but didn’t realize what it was.”
The shop, a concrete block and wood frame structure, was estimated at 80 to 90 years old, Dan said. The lean-tos were built at least 30 years ago, one on the south side and another on the north.
Sedgwick County firefighters from Goddard and Haysville responded, as did crews from Wichita, Maize and even Bel Aire.
“They ran out of water (in) the first 20 minutes they were here. I was in total disbelief,” Dan said on Monday. Discussing the fire was an easier prospect a couple of days after the disaster.
The fire also consumed a great deal of family history, and that loss hurt as much as anything, according to Pam Rogers, one of Lynn’s daughters.
“There’s nothing you can do. There was a lot of history and family in that shop,” she said. “You don’t realize what all you have until you go in there.”
She recounted how her father would pick up a tool or a piece of equipment and talk about its place in the farm’s history or the family’s history.
A number of antique tractors were lost or damaged. In July, the Buerkis would have been driving those tractors in the Fourth of July parade in Garden Plain and Sedgwick County Fair Parade in Cheney. They also made regular appearances at Goddard Fall Festival and in Reno County at Yoder Heritage Day.
Rogers named off several of the pieces of equipment, including a 1966 tilt cab truck that Lynn bought brand new.
“And it still looked brand new,” she said.
The family dug out an anvil that was made in the 1920s in Germany. They hope to be able to salvage other small tools like wrenches and sockets. At least a couple of antique tractors suffered damage but appeared to be salvageable.
The oldest piece of equipment lost was a 1920s horse-drawn planter that was used to plant a second crop between rows of corn.
The amount of equipment lost was extensive in part because wheat harvest was over. The family finished harvest on Thursday.
“Everything was cleaned up, fueled up and put in the shed” on Friday, Rogers said.
According to Rogers, her grandfather began farming in 1920, following his marriage. Herman Buerki farmed at 55th Street South and Hoover, about halfway between Haysville and Schulte. In 1947, they bought the farm where the fire occurred and moved the family there.
Lynn took over the family farm when Herman died in 1951. Lynn was just 19 years old, but already he had learned a great deal from his father about soil conservation. In 1952, he joined the board of directors for the Sedgwick County Conservation District, and began a relationship that has lasted more than six decades. He was recognized in 2014 for 60 years of service.
On Monday while Dan and Pam were visiting insurance agents, Lynn was over on the farm property he grew up on near 55th Street South and Hoover, discing a field.
“‘We’ve got to keep farming.’ Dad says, ‘We’re going to keep farming,’” Rogers said.