A lone hot spot was still smoldering Monday afternoon at Leen and Paula De Snayer's dairy, two weeks after fire gutted their barn, destroying more than 1,700 tons of hay, and causing nearly $500,000 in damages.
In the days since the blaze, the Thornton couple have cleared out the twisted sheets of metal, the piles of ash and charred wood.
They've spent hours researching their insurance policy and making calls to find new supplies of alfalfa, oat and grass hay.
But with family roots that run deep in dairy, the two have also remained focused on tasks at hand - like keeping their 1,450 cows fed, milked and cared for.
The realize that in their industry, change can happen quickly.
"It is something that adds a lot of stress," Paula De Snayer said of the fire, standing with her husband behind the 40-year-old barn, not far from Interstate 5, with the smell of smoke and ash still thick in the air.
"It's not that you like it. But it's a part of (being a dairy farmer). You kind of steel yourself and you get through it."
One year ago this week, the De Snayers and dairy farmers throughout the Central Valley faced not fire but a searing heat wave that killed thousands of cows statewide.
A decade ago, it was the El Nino rains that flooded dairies in the region, including Manteca where Leen De Snayer - like many others - reached out to help his fellow farmers.
"In time of need, agriculture really sticks together and really helps each other out," said De Snayer, who's run the dairy with his wife and three daughters since 1998.
The family has received numerous offers to help clear out the barn and rebuild. The couple hasn't been able to do much yet, as the thick bales of hay continued to smolder.
But they hope to build a new shelter for their hay by October, before the rains come.
The modest couple has not asked for handouts, and their insurance should cover most of the damages, they said.
Even so, the disruption of losing a barn and all of your hay is no small matter, said Jack Hamm, who runs a dairy south of Flag City.
Jack Hamm, who runs a dairy south of Flag City, said the De
Snayers' fire has reminded farmers throughout the area about the
dangers of combustion.
Fire officials suspect moist hay triggered a chemical reaction, heating up and eventually igniting the hay. Combustion of wet hay, once baled and stored, is a common problem.
"What it did is make all of us extremely aware," Hamm said. "You end up going through and double-checking everything."
"This is a good wake up for the rest of the industry," he added.
To help prevent combustion, bales of hay are set outside to dry for several weeks before they are stored.
- News-Sentinel staff.
• 1,146 tons of alfalfa hay, at an estimated value of $180,000
• 600 tons of oat and grass hay, estimated at $90,000
• A 13,500-square-foot barn, estimated at more than $200,000
- Leen and Paula De Snayer.
"It sets you back," he said. "You're going to get real intimate with your insurance company."
"The expense is the cost of a small house," he added.
Finding a new place to store the huge hay bales, and working on rebuilding plans can be costly and time consuming.
Leen De Snayer said he plans to take out about a half an acre of corn to store new hay he's purchased.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, jeans and a blue and white plaid shirt, De Snayer said he's become used to setbacks in his business.
But he's also aware of its rewards.
Their dairy, like many in the state, is experiencing a boom in the birth of calves this year.
They've had about 30 percent more than last year, when the heat prevented many cows from becoming pregnant, De Snayer said.
"That's how agriculture is: We have one bad thing but … we always rebound," he said.