BENTON TOWNSHIP, COLUMBIA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – When you hear about a rural barn fire, we often see the loss of livestock or farming equipment. But what a barn fire Wednesday morning in Columbia County’s countryside claimed is a family’s artistic livelihood as Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller explains.
It’s a startling image among the smoldering ruins of a fire… the sculpture of a baby. It’s just one piece of artwork that was crafted by accomplished sculptor Christina Bothwell of Stillwater. “It hasn’t really set in,” she said.
Her husband, noted author/illustrator and current sculptor Robert Bender, also stored his handiwork in the barn converted into an art studio “Several thousand copies of my children’s books,” he said.
The couple’s life’s work is now gone up in smoke. Mr. Bender said, “We’ve lost a lot of the contents. The contents are probably more valuable than the building itself.”
Mr. Bender says he was in the studio barn shortly before the fire started around 9:00 a.m. “I discovered that a water connection had broken to a water heater which has an electrical component.” He says he shut off the water and disconnected a space heater. Then while doing yard work he saw smoke pouring out of a barn window and grabbed a fire extinguisher. “By the time I got up there it was just way too hot. There was just way too much smoke.”
Within minutes, fire consumed the building and prevented firefighters from saving it. The couple’s daughter, Sophia Bender, said “When you see other people’s houses go up in flames and like you can’t imagine, like, how hard it is until it actually happens to you.”
Despite the devastation, the family feared it might turn out even worse. “The trees started catching fire and I thought it’s only a matter of minutes perhaps before either the woods or our house or our big barn go up,” said Ms. Bothwell.
This creative couple and their children vow to figure out a way to get new equipment and just start over. Ms. Bothwell said, “We have to rebuild because it’s how we make a living.”
Ms. Bothwell had been busy preparing to exhibit her sculptures in some upcoming shows. The fire officially remained under investigation Wednesday night.