Washington fire turns 75-year-old man's dream to ashes

By WEEK Reporter

February 28, 2014 Updated Mar 1, 2014 at 12:45 AM CDT

WASHINGTON, Ill. -- A large barn fire turn one man's livelihood into ashes.

Around 5AM Friday morning, firefighters from more than 12 area departments responded to the fire at a dairy farm on the 2200 block of Cruger Road in Washington.

The land owner, 75-year-old Dick Miller, was injured in the fire. He is in the intensive care unit at Eureka hospital, but the main pain is the emotional one.

Miller has been working on his Washington dairy farm for more than 70 years.

"The farm was his everything. The cows were his family," said Natalie Vercler. Her family has been working on the farm with Miller for decades. Her brother, Aaron Verlcer, owns the cows.

Miller lives alone. The Verclers are the closest thing to family. They're concerned.

"It's very devastating," said Kaye Vercler, a close friend of Miller. "I'm more worried about his emotional health. He's in the hospital for smoke inhalation but the real pain is the loss of the dairy farm."

"His dream would have been to work on the dairy farm as long as he possibly and physically could," said Natalie.

When he tried to thaw a frozen pipe, Miller used a heater. Then, there came fire in the milking barn.

Dozens of bales of hay caught fire.

"It's not what you want to see as a barn. I imagined the barn as the beautiful red barn that it was with the beautiful cows standing in the pasture," said Natalie. "It's not. It's blackened to the ground."

"The milk house, all the milking equipment... it's gone," said Kaye.

However, the community is present. Dozens of central Illinois firefighters, fellow farmers moving hay, and these neighbors currently visiting Miller at the hospital.

"He was like family to me," said Natalie.

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