A fire engulfs the Seykora family’s dairy barn April 8 on their farm near Owatonna, Minnesota. 
A fire engulfs the Seykora family’s dairy barn April 8 on their farm near Owatonna, Minnesota. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    OWATONNA, Minn. – While Brian and MaryBeth Seykora were watching their sons, Matt and Mitchell, play baseball the evening of April 8, their own lives were thrown a curveball.
    “I got a call from my brother at 6:54 p.m. while I was watching the game, and I got here (to the farm) by 7:15 p.m.,” Brian said. “By that time, you couldn’t get in the barn anymore.”
    The Seykoras could only watch as their 45-stall hip roof tiestall barn went up in flames on their farm near Owatonna.
    “I was just numb,” Brian said of that moment. “I was trying to think of what to do like finding a home for the cows that got out. There wasn’t any emotion really until about Sunday.”
    MaryBeth felt the pain that night.
    “I was like a stone,” she said with tears. “I couldn’t stop staring at what was happening. I just thought of how much work he (Brian) had done and all the memories.”
    Earlier in the evening, two employees had done chores for the Seykoras so they could watch their sons play baseball. Brian and MaryBeth split up so each son would have a parent at their game. The employees finished chores and left the barn about 6:30 p.m.
    About 15 minutes later, a person driving by the farm spotted smoke coming out of the roof and called the fire department and then others in the community in order to reach the Seykoras. In the meantime, four neighbors who passed by or heard about the fire jumped into action. They went into the burning barn untying cows as fast as they could.
    “It was just a gut reaction for them to do it,” Brian said.
    They were able to untie 30 of the 45 cows in the stalls before the smoke and flames become too much for them to handle and retreated from the building.
    “The cows were untied, but they weren’t coming out the door because they were scared,” Brian said. “Siding and debris was dropping down.”
    In a last-ditch effort to save more of the herd, the neighbors hooked a chain on to a truck and the water line through an east door.
    “They tried ripping part of the side of the barn out so the cows would come out,” Brian said. “We thought all the cows that were going to come out were out, but there were cows still coming out an hour and a half later. Those didn’t make it.”
    Out of the 57 cows that make up the Seykoras’ herd, they are left with 28 after the fire. Although more lived, they were lost to smoke inhalation.
    The fire marshal told the Seykoras the cause of the fire was most likely from broken electrical wire from a light in the hay loft.  
    “It’s nobody’s fault,” Brian said. “Nobody smokes or anything like that. It’s just one of those things that happens. It’s an unfortunate circumstance.”
    With a small herd, Brian said all the cows were his favorite.
    “They were all good cows,” he said.
    Brian developed the herd through his 24-year dairying career. When he bought the herd, the cows had a 16,000-pound rolling herd average. Right before the fire, the cows were milking 94 pounds of milk each day.
    “We started from scratch basically,” Brian said. “I think about how far we came.”
    He also thinks about the memories made in the barn.
    “You spend more time there in the barn than in your house a lot of times,” Brian said. “I watched calves being born and develop later into cows. Sure, there were times of hardship, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s our lifestyle out here.”
    The Seykoras are thankful to have support from the community to rally around them. It started as soon as people noticed the fire and tried to save the cows.
    “It was just their reaction,” Brian said. “That’s the kind of people we have around here. The support is amazing. It’s just unbelievable the amount of people who want to help.”
    As the fire went on, more people came to help. The Seykoras estimated there might have been as many as 200 people gathered the night of the blaze.
    “(The help) was unbelievable,” Brian said. “There were cars 1 mile down the road and a line of people in the yard making a big fence so the cows couldn’t run farther away.”
    Even as Brian was trying to think of where the remaining milking cows could go to be milked, neighbors and friends took charge.
    “Someone came up to me and said Casey Nelson from ABS had already arranged everything and took care of it,” Brian said.
    Glenn Johnson and his wife, Deb McDermott-Johnson, made room for the Seykoras’ cows on their dairy, Clover Glen Farm, near Claremont.
    “We are so thankful for the Johnsons,” Brian said.
People also offered the use of their cattle trailers.
    “There were eight trailers offered within three minutes,” Brian said. “We couldn’t move the cows that night because the driveway was full of trucks and hoses until 3:30 a.m.”
    By 6:15 the next morning, the Seykoras had more people arrive to help load cows.
    A few days after the fire, the Seykoras found out other friends and community members started a GoFundMe page to help them.
    “They definitely didn’t need to do that but people wanted to help in some way,” Brian said. “There are only so many people who can bring a trailer, bring us food or ask to help clean up. It’s what they could do to help.”
     While Brian now makes the 25-mile drive to help with chores at Clover Glen Farm, the Seykoras need to decide their future.
    “We’re 45 years old,” Brian said. “We’re right in that middle spot. Five years ago, we would have immediately said we would rebuild. If we were five years later, we would have retired. But we aren’t quite ready to be done yet. We don’t know what we’re going to do.”
    When the Seykoras make their decision, they know they will make the best decision for their family.
    “Our faith is strong,” Brian said. “I thank God every day for the ability to take care of these cows. Now I’m asking him to guide us on what to do next.”