2017-06-01 / Front Page

Centennial farm owners helpless while fire destroys two barns

Electrician loses tools of his trade
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff


CAROL AND Will Bunek are consoled by county Sheriff Mike Borkovich as two barns on their family centennial farm burn to the ground. CAROL AND Will Bunek are consoled by county Sheriff Mike Borkovich as two barns on their family centennial farm burn to the ground. Will Bunek stood in his white socks about suppertime Tuesday and watched as two barns on his family’s centennial farm burned to the ground.

There was nothing he could do — and little that the seven fire departments at the scene could do to save the main barn or what the family referred to as the “horse barn” behind it.

However, firefighters did stop the fire from spreading to the grainery, a chicken coop, and more importantly the family farm house, which was built in the 1880s.

Rather than dwell on their losses — which were substantial, as the barns and their contents were insured for only $10,000 — Carol and Will Bunek spoke about what went right for them that day.

“There’s so much to be thankful for,” said Carol Bunek. “No one was hurt. There wasn’t a wind, and the grass was wet from the start of a rain.”


SMOKE FROM the Bingham Township barn fire could be seen from miles around. The centennial barn, owned by Will and Carol Bunek, was a complete loss. SMOKE FROM the Bingham Township barn fire could be seen from miles around. The centennial barn, owned by Will and Carol Bunek, was a complete loss. It was the rain that caused Will Bunek, chair of the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners, to stop mowing his lawn and pull his riding lawnmower into the barn. He headed to the farmhouse, pulled off his shoes, and had just sat down when he saw flames jumping off the barn.

The fire was already licking up the barn’s walls and into its white oak rafters.

Bunek and firefighters at the scene believe that something caught fire on the lawnmower and made quick work of destroying the barn. The intense flames soon spread to the horse barn, which was also razed.

Bunek rushed out of his house with barely had time to pull his 33-horse Massey Ferguson tractor out of the horse barn before it was engulfed. He tried to start moving the main barn’s contents to safety, but its walls were already too hot, he said.


WILL BUNEK, shown here, was helpless as his barns burned Tuesday. WILL BUNEK, shown here, was helpless as his barns burned Tuesday. “It was a hot one,” confirmed Jim Porter, chief of the Suttons Bay- Bingham Fire Department. “The drive time from the Suttons Bay station was minimal, but the big barn was fully engulfed. So I told my guys to save the other structures.”

Firefighters first on the scene quickly dumped what water they had brought in pumper trucks. Eventually a steady line of pumpers was filling up at Kids Fishing Pond in Veronica Valley County Park.

The Bunek farm is located near the intersection of Otto and Maple Valley roads, about 1 1/2-miles from Veronica Valley.

Inside the main barn were Bunek’s tools — he’s an electrician — and his son’s 1977 Camaro, which was being refurbished. Also lost were cabinets Bunek was storing for a good friend whose home is being renovated.

Gone, too, are the typical things stored in barns that can’t be replaced.

At one time it appeared that the entire cluster of buildings would be lost as the fire spread to three propane tanks outside the barn wall closest to the farmhouse. But the tanks are designed to “release” gas during a fire rather than explode, and all three worked as designed.

“That’s what we have to thank God for,” Bunek said.

Bunek has the original deed given to his great-grandfather for the farm, which now includes 68 acres. The deed was signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1884.

He’s unsure of the exact date that the farmhouse was built, but he did find an old newspaper clipping in its walls that was dated in the 1880s.

The grainery, which was saved, was built in 1914 according to a date in the foundation. Also saved was a chicken coop. The barn, which was 40 by 70 feet, and smaller horse barn collapsed and burned to the ground.

Later that evening the Lake Leelanau Excavating provided a dozer to spread out the debris so it could be doused.

“We had to have someone spread it out, or else it would still be burning,” Porter said.

Watching the fire wind down, the Buneks were a long way from coming up with a plan to cope with their loss.

And they were in for a cold night.

“We have no propane, Carol,” Will Bunek said to his wife.

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