Hay business back at it after Jan. 11 fire in Rock Valley, Iowa


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — About two weeks ago a fire destroyed a building and office at the Rock Valley Hay Auction in Iowa.

The fire happened on the night of Jan. 11. The next day, the auction company was back selling hay.

“Our operation continued at sun up,” owner Paul McGill said. Jan. 12 was an auction day.

McGill has owned the business since. Feb. 1, 1996. The business dates back to the 1940s. It has a history of supplying hay and straw to farmers and ranchers in the region but also across the nation when there is a need in other areas.

McGilll said he’s fortunate the fire did not destroy any hay. “We always have a lot of hay to sell,” he said.

Ninety-two semi loads of hay left Rock Valley the morning after the fire. Most of the hay had been at the business on the night of the fire.

Hay bales at the Rock Valley Hay Auction in Rock Valley, Iowa. Photo courtesy of Paul McGill

Where the hay goes and where it comes from varies from auction to auction and year to year, he said.

Many of the regular customers are feedlots in northwestern Iowa and the region.

“Right now, we are sending a lot to Kansas and Oklahoma. That’s not normal,” McGill said.

When there is a drought or heavy snow conditions like this month, the hay will be in demand outside the region.

“This morning we hauled a load out to Yankton and Davis,” McGill said on Jan. 25.

Areas where heavy snow fell in December and early January in South Dakota are having a tougher time with hay supply now, McGill said.

“Say the Winner area, a lot of the people selling hay have their own cattle. Two things are happening now, they are feeding more of their own hay to cattle and the feed is harder to get at,” McGill said.

McGill deals with an important commodity. So when he heard the business was on fire on Jan. 11, “it wasn’t a good time.”

Rock Valley Fire Chief Brent Eshuis said when the department got to the scene, there was heavy black smoke and fire. “Within 30 seconds to a minute, the building flashed, everything was on fire,” he said.

Firefighters knew there would be square and round bales of hay at the site, he said.

Many of the bales had some snow cover.

“If there wasn’t any snow cover it would have been a bigger mess,” Eshuis said.

Firefighters focused on containing the fire. “We never thought about putting anybody inside,” Eshuis said.

Rock Valley and nearby Hull have a mutual agreement that when there is a structure fire in either town, the fire department will respond to help, he said.

The fire department in Sioux Center also responded with an aerial truck, Eshuis said.

Firefighters were at the scene for about 3 1/2 hours, Eshuis said.

The auction company lost a shop building, the equipment inside, an office building and the computers and other items inside that, McGill said.

He had called his computer service on Jan. 11 and McGill said the business worked through the night to make sure the auction company had computers to use on Jan. 12.

For now, McGill said the business is being operated in a construction site-type trailer.

It’s working OK during what is the busiest time of the year.

“We do sell more hay than anyone else does,” he said. “It’s a busy time during winter time because cattle eat more hay.”

During the winter there are hay auctions twice a week until the first of May.

McGill said the fire likely started in the engine compartment of a truck parked in the shop.



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