CONVOY, Ohio - It was shapping to be a banner week for Henk Arts.
Workers were putting the last touches on a storage barn at his new dairy farm in northern Van Wert County, finishing more than a year of construction. On Tuesday, he showed off the 80-acre facility and its three gleamed metal barns to a tour group that included U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio), who was in the area for a series of agricultural events.
But less than a day later, the Dutch farmer watched helplessly as a fire destroyed the steel storage building, causing about $500,000 in damage.
Up in smoke went tons of hay, straw and livestock feed, two harvestors, and the long, low-slung structure.
"Unbelievable," Mr Arts said yesterday afternoon, watching thick, yellow-tinged smoke pour from the ruined building. "All that nice hay and nice straw. Nothing you can do."
"Very bad," Mr. Arts said. "It takes a rib out of your life."
Mr. Arts, who moved from the Netherlands and began building the farm last year, said he has 650 cows, most of which produce milk. They were safe in his two other barns.
No injuries were reported. The Arts family, farm workers, and firefighters hustled about 80 calves out of the burning building shortly after the blaze was reported about 2:30 a.m. yesterday.
Convoy Fire Chief Don Wilson said the cause of the blaze was unknown.
About three dozen firefighters from nearby Convoy and four other area departments battled the stubborn blaze for more than 12 hours, struggling to reach the burning bales of hay and straw and extinguish them.
''As long as it's packed in there it's going to keep burning,'' said Convoy fire Lt. Dale Ball.
Crews trying to open the sides of the metal building were hampered by the fire's intense heat, which he estimated at 1,000 degrees.
''The guys weren't able to take it so much, so we backed them out,'' he said.
Starting about 7 a.m., Mr. Arts's contractor, Agricultural Building & Design, Inc., wheeled in excavators to tear open the building. In the afternoon, bulldozers began hauling away smoking piles of hay and straw to be buried in a huge, newly dug trench.
Firefighters also were hampered by yesterday's hot, muggy weather. Chief Wilson said one Convoy firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.
A local grocery store donated bottles of water and sacks of ice to help keep the fire crews cool, and Convoy firefighter Gary Baxter took advantage, slinging a bag of cubes across his forehead to ease the middday heat.
''All this ice on the ground was going to waste, so I figured I might as well use it on my body,'' Mr. Baxter said. ''I've been here since 2:30 a.m. So far, so good. I'm still standing."
Bob Tarrow, the Agricultural Building project manager overseeing the Arts farm construction, said he feared some of the calves rescued from the burning building would die of smoke inhalation.
''We're probably going to lose 15 to 20 calves,'' he said. ''We had calves in there from a day old to about 3 months. The young ones can't take that. ... They're just not eating well, and their throats are torched.''
Mr. Tarrow said Mr. Arts had been ready to sign documents yesterday signifying the end of construction on the farm.
''I've got all my papers up front,'' he said. ''We were going to sign the papers today, saying the job was complete.''