Campus lab farm fire causes $25,000 in damage
September 16, 2010
Burnt hay and a charred building are all that remain after a fire at the Campus Lab Farm 1 on July 23, but construction of a new building, along with new rules and security measures are in the works.
The late July fire resulted in the arrest of Christopher D. Pixley, 19, of River Falls, who was subsequently charged with arson of a building, which is a Class C Felony, according to Pierce County district court documents. Pixley, who was reportedly drunk when he started the fire, was being “stupid” and “used a lighter to ignite a small piece of the hay and did not anticipate that it would get out of hand,” according to the River Falls police report.
The maximum sentence for such a charge can be up to $100,000 or 40 years in prison. Pixley is out on bail and will return to court on Dec. 1 for a 12 person jury trial. The now destroyed building was built in 1958 and was part of the old dairy facility before the equine program used it as storage space for hay. The reckless act that occurred early on the morning of July 23 put the damage of the hay and the structure at approximately $25,000, according to court documents.
UW-River Falls operates two laboratory farms which serve as educational tools that offer hands-on learning for several classes within the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES). The campus farm is located just south of campus off of Wasson Lane.
The ramifications of the fire are numerous. The hay, which amounted to around 280 bales, was intended to feed the horses in the equine program throughout the winter, said Laboratory Farms Director Bill Connolly. The farm now has to procure hay from area farms, which shouldn’t be difficult considering calls were streaming in from other farms after word got out about the fire, Connolly said.
Despite the seemingly easy task of buying more hay, the amount of time, effort and thought involved in harvesting dry hay makes the fire a tragedy, said Connolly. This summer’s record rain fall made it especially difficult to ensure that the hay was dry before it was baled and stored, Connolly said. There are a lot of decisions to make when harvesting hay and then “some moron burns it. Why, to see if it burns?” Connolly said.
The building is insured through the state, so CAFES is waiting for funding from Madison before it can move forward with the actual construction. Details about the location and other issues are being discussed with several faculty members within CAFES.
Security at the farm is one of the issues that remains a primary concern, and soon a sign will be erected that will display the new farm hours, which are from 8:00 a.m. to dusk. Connolly said this is to his dismay because he prides himself with having an open farm policy and does not want to lock it up. Surveillance cameras are also being pursued as a potential option, Connolly said.
University Chief of Police, Richard Trende said that in light of the sometimes limited resources, those on campus should be the eyes and ears and alert campus police if they see something unusual.
This is the second incident of arson at the campus farm. The first incident occurred in 2007 and juveniles were the culprits.