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Villisca chicken facility fined by the Iowa DNR for June, 2023 massive chicken confinement fire

Ag/Outdoor, News

July 10th, 2024 by Ric Hanson

(Des Moines, Iowa) – State regulators have taken action against three men they say share responsibility for illegal fires that torched 10 large chicken confinement buildings last year near Villisca. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reports one of the men, Tyson Means of Villisca, has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine, according to a recent Iowa Department of Natural Resources order. Two others, Shawn Gohlinghorst and Darrel Schipansky, were issued violation notices, but no orders regarding them have been publicly released.

State law generally prohibits the deliberate burning of buildings and requires their debris be taken to a landfill, but there are exceptions for agricultural buildings. In this case, Villisca had annexed the property, and burning the buildings had additional requirements, such as gaining approval from the local fire chief. That didn’t happen, according to the DNR. The building fires were ignited simultaneously about 3 p.m. on June 29, and they burned for hours. Each building was 50 feet wide and 728 feet long. Iowa DNR Senior environmental Specialist Kristi Burg said “There’s no way you would have had enough fire departments and water nearby if it got out of control.” The Villisca fire chief became aware of the fires about seven hours after they began and decided “it was too big to be put out,” the DNR order said.

Fires burned 10 former chicken confinement buildings near Villisca in June 2023. (Photo by Brian Hamman/courtesy of Iowa DNR)

Several rural homes are located nearby, along with a site for storing and distributing liquid fertilizer. The property lies about a mile west of residences and businesses in town. Montgomery County Emergency Management Coordinator Brian Hamman said the smoke and glow from the fire was visible for miles, and residents in four different counties made emergency calls to report it. Hamman said the men burned the buildings after recent rainfall, and that the fires did not stray. “From my point of view, there was nothing dangerous,” he said.

Schipansky owned the property, and Gohlinghorst and Means later bought it on contract. They razed the site with the intention of growing crops on the land. The men had also neglected to inspect the site for asbestos. The DNR tested samples of the debris and found no asbestos, but “a thorough asbestos sampling could not have been conducted since the buildings had been completely burned,” the department’s order said.

Gohlinghorst and Means rid the property of the remaining building debris in September and October 2023 and disposed of it at a landfill, the order said.

Debris from the confinement buildings were later taken to a landfill. (Photo by Brian Hamman/courtesy of Iowa DNR)

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources surveyed the burn site the day after the fires were ignited. (Photo by Brian Hamman/courtesy of Iowa DNR)