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

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) – A fire destroyed a building and office at Rock Valley Hay Auctions in Iowa about two weeks ago.

The fire broke out on the night of 11 January. The next day the auction company was selling the hay.

Owner Paul McGill said, “Our operation continued in the sun.” January 12 was the day of the auction.

McGill has owned the business ever since. February 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 throughout the country when there is a need in other areas.

McGill said he was lucky the fire didn’t destroy any grass. “We always have plenty of hay to sell,” he said.

Ninety-two semi loads of grass came out of Rock Valley in the morning after the fire. Most were engaged in the hay business the night the fire broke out.

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

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

Many regular customers are feedlots in Northwest Iowa and the region.

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

When there is drought or heavy snow this month, there will be demand for hay outside the area.

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

McGill said South Dakota, which had heavy snow in December and early January, is now having a tough time with hay supplies.

“A lot of people who sell hay have their own cattle,” says Winner Area. “Two things are happening now, they’re feeding cattle their own hay and it’s hard to get feed.”

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McGill deals with an important commodity. So when he heard the business was gutted in a fire on January 11, “it was not a good time.”

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

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

Many bales had some snow cover.

“If there was no ice cover, it would have been a big mess,” Eshuis said.

Firefighters focused on getting the fire under control. “We never thought about putting anyone in,” Eshuis said.

He said Rock Valley and nearby Hull have a mutual agreement that when a fire occurs in either town, the fire department will help.

Eshuis said the fire department at Sioux Center also responded with an air truck.

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Eshues said firefighters were at the scene for about three-and-a-half hours.

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

They had called their computer service on January 11 and McGill said the business worked through the night to make sure the auction company had the computers to use on January 12.

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

It’s working fine during the busiest times of the year.

“We sell more weed than anyone else,” he said. “It’s a busy time in the wintertime because cattle eat more grass.”

Hay auctions are held twice a week during the winter until May 1st.

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

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